News Roundup: Evenepoel at the Tour, Sagan and the Olympics

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Remco Evenepoel is definitely going to the Tour de France next year. Last year’s ITT world champion who will turn 24 in January told Het Nieuwsblad, “Next season is focused on Liège [Liège-Bastogne- Liège], the Tour and the Olympic Games in Paris, followed by the World Cup. My ambitions? I hope for a third victory in Liège; it is a dream to leave Paris with two medals.”

The dream matchup of the Belgian Soudal–QuickStep rider taking on two-time Tour winners Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) as well as Primož Roglič (BORA-hansgrohe as of Jan. 1) in the world’s greatest cycling road race next year looks like it will become reality – barring injury or illness, of course.

Evenepoel was uncharacteristically modest in setting out his expectations for the race. The Tour, he said, “will be a voyage of discovery. The gods of stage racing are at the start with Vingegaard, Pogačar and Roglič. Top five is the ambition. It would be a dream come true if I performed better than just one of these three. And a stage win is also possible, of course. Then I will have won a stage in the three Grand Tours.”

Evenepoel spoke with the public after receiving the Belgian Sportsman of the Year award for the third time. But I don’t know if he ever said before a race that he would be satisfied with a non-podium finish. It’s difficult to believe that this is what he really thinks.

Evenepoel went on to say that 2024 “will be a season with few races. “From May, in the build-up to the Tour and the Games, I will no longer be at home and will alternate altitude training with competitions. So, for Liège, I want to spend as much time as possible at my Spanish base, close to the family. I can train well uphill there, [because] it is easier to ride the kilometres with the time-trial bike. And most importantly, it will keep me mentally fresh. I want to start my preparation for the Tour with a fresh and clear head.”

Given the difficulty of next year’s Tour, it’s understandable that he wants to be as fresh as possible in the run-up to the race. If everyone manages to stay healthy, it should be an epic race.

Peter Sagan will begin his 2024 MTB season on February 11 in Abu Dhabi, according to an interview posted on the site formerly known as Twitter by the Slovak photographer/blogger and cyclist Lukáš Ronald Lukács. That race will be followed by an MTB event at Chelva, on February 17-18, then on to Banyoles one week later. The seven-time Tour de France Škoda Green Jersey winner, who retired from road racing this year, went on to say, “I’ve won a lot on the road but in recent years, I’ve stopped enjoying it. I have always had the desire to return to what I like the most, i.e., riding MTB, being in the middle of nature, jumping, experiencing adrenaline. I am 33 years old, it was time to make a decision.”

Peter Sagan
Starting next year, one of the most successful cyclists of all time will resume his career in MTB, which he gave up at the end of 2009 to join the Liquigas-Doimo team. © Profimedia

Sagan won the junior MTB world championship in 2008 before switching to road racing in 2009 but he has always dreamed of returning to the discipline. As he put it in the interview, “I’ve always said: ‘I was born in MTB, I will die in MTB.’ In fact, I was never too sure about becoming a professional road cyclist when I was a junior.”

He said that it is important to have a solid foundation to race in MTB: The foundation is always important, especially in winter. But I still add some quality. I will increase the pace [of training] from January. Strength in the gym is also fundamental but the decisive point for me is technique. I have to improve!”

Sagan went on to say that he would train in South Africa before heading to Abu Dhabi for the first race of the year. “But overall, my main goal for the next year will be to participate in the Paris Olympics,” he said. “Once the season starts, I will understand what my level is and how to proceed with the plans. I will do my best to be competitive again and, above all, to have fun again.”

And speaking of the Paris Olympics, the Dutch veteran Wout Poels, who is coming off one of his best seasons, has been complaining to GCN about the format of the Olympics’ road race, in which only 90 riders are to take part, many of them from countries with a limited cycling experience. The 36-year-old Bahrain-Victorious rider won a stage in the Vuelta and the Tour de France this year and wants to ride the Giro to try and have a stage win in every Grand Tour. And he really wants to ride in the Olympics but his participation is uncertain because of the rider limit, which he said will eliminate some of the best riders from the competition.

“I think it’s ridiculous what they’ve done with all the spots,” Poels said. “I’ve had a feeling that in the last 10 years, cyclists have really started to target the Olympics more. It’s a real shame that they now make the rules that the peloton will only be 90 riders.”

The Netherlands will be limited to three riders in the race, one of whom will be Mathieu van der Poel, which means that Wout Poels’ participation is not guaranteed. “It’s ridiculous because you don’t have all the best riders at the start,” he said. “Then all these countries with no cycling history, they have riders there who can’t even follow for 10 km. It’s a nice Olympic thought but it doesn’t really work.”