Belgian cycling heavyweights Eddy Merckx and Remco Evenepoel met at a football match between RSC Anderlecht and West Ham United in early October.

Merckx to Evenepoel: No question, choose the Giro over the Tour

Apparently the decision between Giro and Tour has already been made, but Camp Evenepoel is remaining tight-lipped for now.

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Eddy Merckx has had his say on the debate over Remco Evenepoel’s 2023 Grand Tour campaign, recommending that the world champion should target the Giro d’Italia before thinking of the Tour de France, just as Merckx himself did, thrice.

“He’s made a lot of progress in these last few months: Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Vuelta, the World Championships,” Merckx told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Now I’d advise him to do the Giro, it’s better for him at this point in his career…Furthermore, the races in Italy are always special: nice places, the tifosi, the food.”

The recently announced Giro route includes no less than 70 time trial kilometres – 7.3 of them directly up the crazy Monte Lussari climb (12.1%, max. 22%) on the penultimate stage – which will play to the young Belgian’s strengths, although it’s not just the parcours that Evenepoel will have to contend with.

“[It] depends on how strong the others are,” Merckx said of his compatriot’s hopes of a second consecutive Grand Tour victory in Italy. “But Evenepoel has proved in these last few months that he’s a champion. He’s evolved: he’s won the Vuelta, a Grand Tour. And he did it by even attacking on the steepest slopes.”

Evenepoel gagged plenty of doubters at the Vuelta, excelling where he hasn’t before as well as on terrain that has always been his playground. With a clear schedule and a singular objective, he proved that he can prepare and recover better than ever, but Merckx warned that next year’s Giro will be much tougher than what he faced in Spain a couple of months ago.

While the Vuelta featured just one peak over 2,000 metres – and not a particularly exciting one at that – the Giro has more testing climbs than you can count on one hand, including the “endless” Gran Sasso d’Italia (2,135 m), the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard (2,469 m) and a Dolomites stage taking in the Campolongo (1,875 m), Valparola (2,196 m), Giau (2,236 m) and Tre Croci (1,805 m) passes on the way to the Tre Cima di Lavaredo (2,304 m) for a total of 5,400 metres of elevation.

Merckx pointed out, “The weather will also be different, with the chance of snow and cold”, and the chance of high altitude climbs being cut from the program…

Apparently the decision over Giro or Tour has already been made, but Camp Evenepoel is staying tight-lipped until January; perhaps they’re waiting for a chance to study the 2023 Tour route. If it is to be the Giro, it will certainly be the biggest test – at least in racing terms – that Evenepoel will have faced so far in his career.

And it’ll be worth it, whether he’s successful or not.

“Evenepoel will have to put himself to the test,” Merckx said. “It’s the only way he will get to know his limits. You also learn from your defeats.”

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