Jurgen Van den Broeck assesses Evenepoel’s chances: “Thanks to him, I also get more recognition”

Interview Remco Evenepoel will make his comeback this week in the Critérium du Dauphiné, two months after his painful crash in the Tour of the Basque Country. Although he has stated that he is not aiming for a podium finish and is primarily focusing on the Tour de France, all eyes will be on the Belgian champion. Jurgen Van den Broeck (41) is the most recent Belgian to have stood on the podium of both stage races, making him the ideal person to assess Evenepoel’s chances and share his own experiences.

Jurgen, next week will be an important test for Remco. Do you think he needs to compete for the top spots here if he wants to win the Tour?
“In my experience, yes. There are always exceptions, super talented men who prove otherwise. But I always felt that the feeling should at least be good. Afterwards, you know that you still have some time to fine-tune. But if the feeling is not good, it rarely turns out well. There have been a few years in my career where it didn’t feel super great at the Dauphiné. Not due to specific circumstances, or anything. And then it didn’t work out in the Tour.”

“The time left after the Dauphiné is not very long, but you still have time. Riders can, for example, do a high-altitude training camp. Miracles don’t happen there. But if you are on the right track, you can then work on those last percentages. In that sense, it will be an important test for Remco and the other favorites.”

Everyone is also expecting a strong performance from Remco right away. Are we underestimating such a rehabilitation as outsiders?
“Maybe, yes. People underestimate the impact of having to rebuild what you have lost in terms of fitness and muscles. It all depends on the period of time you have been completely inactive. If you can get back on the bike quickly, it’s not so bad after all. In the year I fell in the Tour when I was in top form (2011, ed.) I broke my shoulder and ribs. But a month after the Tour, I rode the Vuelta and was back in good shape. That shows that nothing is impossible for a rider in form.”

That sounds like a similar injury to Remco’s, who also broke his collarbone and ribs in the Basque Country.
“That’s why I expect that everything will have healed quickly for him too. If you break your knee, then you have to do exercises every day, go to the physiotherapist, and there is a lot to it. But after surgery on your collarbone, you can be mobile again after three or four days. The ribs take a little longer, but that’s not too bad in terms of hindrance. You feel it and it’s annoying, but you can quickly get back on the bike. This way you can limit the loss of fitness.”

Could we be misled next week? Last year we saw a stronger Pogacar in the Tour at first, but the consequences of the loss of fitness after his collarbone fracture in Liège-Bastogne-Liège only became fully visible later in that Tour.
“You have to take that into account. If you have been out for a while, part of your base is gone. That always makes a difference, but you only notice it gradually. In the beginning, you still race a bit on the recently built-up fitness. But in the weeks that follow, the fatigue adds up. And then you quickly notice in your body if something happened in the preparation. If you want to be at your top level for three weeks, those months beforehand have to go really smoothly.”

Remco already has the Vuelta on his palmares. Does that automatically make him a potential winner in the Tour, or is there still a big difference between the two races?
“The attention and stress in the Tour cannot be compared to any other race. It’s huge. If you then say in advance: I’m going to win, or even for the podium, you know that there is enormous pressure on your shoulders. And that’s from day one to the last day. In other races, you could – or could – pick a day off and say: I’ll ride around leisurely one day. That just doesn’t work in the Tour. You have to be focused from the first minute to the last or pay attention to your position. Even more than in any other race.”

What would it mean to you if fourteen years after yourself, a Belgian would finish in the top 3 of the Tour?
“Like everyone in Belgium, I would be very happy. I would genuinely find it beautiful if someone finally succeeds in that. I think everyone also knows that he can do it, and it’s actually expected of him.”

Do you know each other?
“Not really. When he started racing – in his first year as a junior – I did a training camp with him with the Belgian Cycling Federation, in the Vosges. I met him there, but we didn’t keep in touch afterwards.”

Why is reaching the Tour podium – or even the top 10, something the Dutch achieve much more often – so not obvious for a Belgian?
“That culture is not here. We are not a country of stage racers. We don’t have mountains here. Riders are quickly directed towards the classics and that will always remain a bit ingrained. I had the reputation of being an outsider. Everyone was focused on the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, you only went to stage races to win stages. If I had lived in another country, I would have had more recognition for my achievements. Especially because we don’t have that culture, but also because I wasn’t a winner.”

Does it bother you that Remco is now getting that attention?
“No, not at all. I think it also gives me a bit of recognition. When I went for the general classification in races like the Dauphiné, it wasn’t anything special for the outside world. Especially when you see that most top riders are now trying to finish in the top 5 and find it difficult. The fact that top riders like Evenepoel focus on that and say: I want to achieve a good result there, means that it’s an important race, that it has value.”

“For me, it was very difficult to win the Tour de France or Dauphiné, and in other races too. But I tried to do my best in the things I was good at. It’s very few riders who are given to win such a race, and that might sometimes be forgotten. Remco has much more qualities to win, and I wish him that.”