Remco Evenepoel has agreed with Vincenzo Nibali that he is an outside favourite to win the Giro d’Italia.
The Deceuninck-Quick Step rider will race the Italian national tour in October, his first Grand Tour in just his second season as a professional.
During that time the 20-year-old has picked up 10 wins, including securing the general classification at both the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina and Volta ao Algarve in Portugal before the season came to a halt in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Nibali, twice a winner of the Giro, singled out Evenepoel as a potential “big surprise” – something that the Belgian took as a privilege.
“It’s a big honour that a multiple Grand Tour winner has backed me to be one of the big favourites in that race,” he told a group of journalists on a video-call ahead of La Vuelta a Burgos, his first race back.
“It only gives me motivation if someone like him tells that to the media. He is not going to lie.
“He is a guy with a lot of years of experience, so if he said it I think it can be true. But for myself, I am not going to talk. You can only talk after October 25.
“As it is my first Grand Tour I would not consider myself as one of the favourites, but maybe as an outsider, because everybody knows I climb well and that I have a good TT.
“It is my first Grand Tour so we cannot say how I will feel after two weeks of racing, but I have dome some recons and it is pretty hard.”
Originally due to start in Hungary, the race now begins in Sicily with a 16km time trial – offering Evenepoel – the reigning European time trial champion – an opportunity to take the race lead immediately.
Afterwards, stage 14’s 33.7km test against the clock, and the final day’s 16.5km time trial will pose further opportunities for him if he is to seek overall glory.
“The first day, it’s not that I want to take the pink jersey, but I want to take time on the other GC guys. But I will go all out 16k and see what the result is,” he added.
“The second time trial is something I really look forward to because it is pretty hard and it’s not technical, it’s almost all straight lines up and down, so it is something that should really be an advantage for me, maybe.
“But of course there are other stages going almost 3,000m of altitude which are not really in my advantage but I am working on that.”
Put to him that his style of racing may be akin to Tom Dumoulin and Primož Roglič in that he has to make advantages in time trials, Evenepoel didn’t disagree.
“If you have a good time trial, I’m not going to say it’s more easy, but you can have another strategy and that is just try not to be dropped on the climbs and go all out in the time trials,” he said.
“If you don’t drop on the climbs and you go faster in the time trials than the others, then the result will be there.
“But it’s different because a guy like [Richard] Carapaz is one of the best climbers in the world and I don’t know if I will be able to follow him in the climbs.
“But of course I need to take those time trials as focusing points and we never know in the mountains if I feel good. Maybe I can put in a small attack and gain some time.”
Already regarded as one of the best riders in the peloton, the Belgian is comfortable as team leader despite his young years.
He added: “During the races I tell the guys ‘OK I want to do it like this or that way’, but outside of the races I don’t pretend that I am more than others. I also pay the coffee stops.
“I am not acting like I am the king. In the races it is different, you know they will do everything for you, so you have to repay them besides the races and that’s how I think you really are a leader – to act normal, be yourself with everybody. A thank you is not a lot to ask.”