Evenepoel ‘has never climbed this well’ while Alaphilippe’s Vuelta spring is coiled

The Belgian squad back Remco Evenepoel for GC with Julian Alaphilippe and others to target stages.

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Four months after his horrific crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, world champion Julian Alaphilippe will finally race a Grand Tour this season. The Frenchman will join his Quick-Step-AlphaVinyl teammates in Utrecht for the start of the Vuelta a España on Friday, one of whom was the winner of that fateful race back in the spring, Remco Evenepoel.

The Vuelta begins with a team time trial on Friday and will be the first Grand Tour the pair have tackled together. Both are protagonists in the Belgian squad’s dual goal of targeting the GC and stage victories.

Alaphilippe has only recently returned to the peloton and the Vuelta will be his fifth race since April. His prolonged hiatus as he recovered from multiple fractures and injuries sustained at Liège does not seem to have affected his form too badly, however, with the Frenchman winning the first stage of Tour de Wallonie and racing aggressively at the recent Tour de l’Ain.

“Of course it was not an easy season for me,” Alaphilippe said during a joint press conference with Evenepoel from the team’s hotel room in the Netherlands.

“To say how well I am…this is a little bit complicated, but for sure I feel better and better. For me, it was important to do a lot of efforts in my last races in Leuven and at the Tour de l’Ain and after that I had a good recovery and I know that I can improve my main shape until now, so for sure I feel better than the last few weeks. Maybe [I’m] not 100% but I hope the head can make the difference because I still feel not bad and have a big motivation to do well here for the team and try to win a stage.”

With Evenepoel focusing on the general classification, Alaphilippe will have a free role to try and win stages, which usually results, it must be said, in stage wins for the Frenchman.

“I think it’s not complicated to have two different goals in the team. I think we are here to try to win the stage and, of course, Remco is our leader for the GC. That’s clear, and he will try, he will do his best and he can count on the full support of the team,” Alaphilippe said of this approach.

“The team is professional enough to combine both goals,” added Evenepoel, before explaining that he is in his best-ever climbing form.

“I think I have never climbed this well before,” he said. “So that’s positive, it’s right on time you could say. But the climbing is not for now, first it’s the team time trial and two completely flat stages. So I think as a team we are really motivated to do well tomorrow. If we can do very well tomorrow it’s already a perfect start for us. So let’s focus on Holland first then we have the north of Spain and then the south of Spain.

Both riders emphasised the importance of Friday’s team time trial in achieving success at this race.

“We are focused to do a good team time trial. After that it’s going to be two sprint stages normally, but we don’t have a sprinter so always will be important to stay in front and to take it day-after-day. For me, I just think about the team time trial for this moment. And after we will see,” Evenepoel said, as the world braces for more headsock TT helmets. “I think for the team the most important [thing] tomorrow is to not lose too much time. And I think best case is to win the team trial trial tomorrow. I think that would be a dream start and a lot of kind of pressure on the team falling off. And I think we’re all very motivated to do very well tomorrow.”

Asked if the squad had decided on the order their riders would take in the TTT Evenepoel said: “I think the guy behind me is my friend on the other side of of the room, Julian.”

“Pray for me.” came the response from the Frenchman. “The only problem is I will have a lot of mosquitoes on my visor because Remco is so aero that I will be always in the wind.

“I think it’s more the case of keeping the speed but some guys do longer pulls others do shorter pulls and that’s all part of the plan,” Evenepoel explained before joking, “but we’re not going to tell you that because we never know if you go to Jumbo and you tell them everything and then they know our tactics.”