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Remco Evenepoel begins Tour quest at Paris-Nice as 'big test'

Paris-Nice commences Sunday as the third WorldTour stage race of the season and the hype has been underway for a battle of two from the ‘Big Four’, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) and Primož Roglič (Bora-Hansgrohe). 

Evenepoel makes his debut at Paris-Nice, which is considered the first important stage race of the season, while Roglič returns after a year’s absence and looks for a second GC title, adding to his 2022 success. This year both may be looking beyond the finish line in Nice, however, as the eight-day race serves to preview terrain that will be used for the final stages of the Tour de France come July.

“I want to win a stage and be up there in the general classification. I look forward to racing France for the first time,” Evenepoel said about his first stage race in the country to a gathering of journalists via an online interview, including Cycling News.

“It’s more a big test, not necessarily against Primož, but more to race in France. It’s going to be the first time to do proper racing in France, so for me that’s going to be the biggest – I’m not going to call it a challenge – but experience of this week.”

The 24-year-old raced only three previous occasions in France in his stellar career, and all three times at Chrono des Nations, where he won as a junior in 2018 and was runner-up last year. The 2022 Vuelta a Espana champion makes his debut at the Tour de France this summer.

“A good GC would be nice, so finishing second or even third would still count as a success and give me a big morale boost. There will be a couple of answers after the race, but at the same time it will be too early to draw any important conclusions. These should come only after the Critérium du Dauphiné. But it’s only March now, so all my focus is on Paris-Nice, where together with the Soudal-QuickStep boys I hope to do a good race.”

While the press event was happening, another of Evenepoel’s rivals, Tadej Pogačar, was going on to a dominant win at Strade Bianche. He said he did follow what his rivals were doing, as a spectator and as a fan, since the UAE Team Emirates rider was expected to race at The Tour as well.

“It’s not a lie that I that I follow them. I think it’s going to be one of the few main characters in the upcoming Tour and just for the whole season. You like to watch them and then I’m one of the lucky guys that can race against them. Or, unlucky guys, maybe,” Evenepoel joked.

“It’s very special what they do. It pushes me to work even harder on training to always push my barrier a bit higher, and try to always, let’s say, over achieve. And it’s also very motivating me to try to become as strong as they are.”

Evenepoel arrives at Les Mureaux on the north-west side of Paris for the Sunday start. Across six days of racing so far this year, he’s tallied a win at his opener at Figueira Champions Classic and added three stage podiums at Volta ao Algarve, including the overall title for the third time. 

“I am confident, because I had an excellent start in Portugal. I feel good and I have a strong squad around me, comprising guys who can be with me on the climbs, but also teammates who can guide me on the flat, helping me save energy,” Evenepoel said.

Riding with him at Paris-Nice are Belgian climbers Ilan Van Wilder and Louis Vervaeke, who will be assets on stage 4 that finishes on top of Mont Brouilly. Then the final weekend brings a category 1 summit finish in the Alpes-Maritimes at Auron on stage 7, followed by the mountainous circuit around Nice for the conclusion. Also on the squad are Mattia Cattaneo, Yves Lampaert, Gianni Moscon and Casper Pedersen, who will be vital to protect him in bunch finishes.

“The parcours is nice and demanding, and on paper it should suit a lot of riders, so it’s difficult to say how things will go. Concerning the weekend and the climbs around Nice, I expect a hard weekend, but that’s all that I can say, because I don’t know those ascents and it’s something I can’t wait to discover,” Evenepoel admitted.

“[Pedersen] is the guy who knows what to do in the lead-out trains in every situation so it easier to guide me through in a safe way. He’s a guy that’s going to be very useful for me to not waste energy during the stages, and just protect me as good as possible.”

Evenepoel had not ridden the stages yet and was intrigued about the stage 3 team time trial. It’s a hilly 26.9km route that finishes with 3.1km uphill into Auxerre.

“I am curious about the team time trial, which has a difficult first part and some testing hills, to which you can add the rule that says the time of the first rider to cross the line will count, and this will only make everything more interesting. It looks like the start is going to be the hardest part, until the second intermediate [split],”

“We’ll have to see what it looks like. The first time counts, which doesn’t mean that you have to finish alone. It’s a good rule. It’s something special that you can add to the race, but the only thing that changes is just that you did have a full lead out in the last kilometres. If you lose already a few guys after 10 kilometres, it’s not in favour of a team. 

“You really have to manage the effort during the whole TTT. It’s more kind of a lead out in the last kilometre to launch somebody to have the fastest time, but nothing more special than that.”

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
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