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Remco Evenepoel won the first Grand Tour he completed, though his two starts since then have been mixed and now the doubts have set in within his team (Photo: Luis Angel Gomez- Sprint Cycling Agency)

Remco Evenepoel (Soudal QuickStep) had planned to use the Vuelta and Giro as stepping stones towards riding the Tour de France, with the aim of winning. But now his team boss, Patrick Lefevere, concedes he has doubts about whether the young Belgian can really challenge in the French Grand Tour.

Still just 23-years-old, Evenepoel made his Grand Tour debut in the 2021 Giro and crashed out. He started last year’s Vuelta and took overall victory, though went up against an under-strength Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), with the Slovenian eventually crashing out of the race.

This year Evenepoel went back to the Giro, winning the stage 1 and stage 9 TTs before being forced out with Covid-19. And when he went to La Vuelta at the end of the season, he suffered a collapsed on stage 13 and lost almost 30 minutes, though still won three stages and the mountains classification.

Lefevere now says the plan was for Evenepoel to complete this year’s Giro as a stepping stone towards the Tour in 2024, which he must now ride without really gaining the experience he needed. And the team boss says he doubts whether his rider can genuinely challenge Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo Visma) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates).

Most cycling fans would also put Roglič onto that short list, as he will get his chance to ride for GC with Bora-hansgrohe next year. Lefevere also says the reasons for Evenepoel’s performance on stage 13 of the Vuelta – a worrying sign for a rider hoping to win multiple Grand Tours – has not been established, though he has some theories.

“I think it was a combination of different factors,” he told The last hour. “Remco raced a lot this year and he probably didn’t take enough time to recover from Covid. Maybe he should have started back at the Tour of Belgium instead of Tour of Switzerland, which was much harder.”

Lefevere also said though Evenepoel won the Vuelta in 2022, the fact he had to leave the Giro this year after nine stages, and did not ride the second half of the Vuelta among the GC battle, means it is now hard to establish how much progress he has made in the Grand Tours.

“We still have doubts about the exact level he can reach in the Tour de France against guys like Vingegaard and Pogačar,” Lefevere explained. “We would have preferred if he could have enjoyed the Giro for three weeks before discovering the Tour de France. But because of all those setbacks this year, he immediately has to discover himself in the Tour.”

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