Vuelta 2022 – Remco Evenepoel, symbol of a Belgium back at the top of world cycling

Vuelta 2022 – Remco Evenepoel, symbol of a Belgium back at the top of world cycling

Vuelta 2022 – Remco Evenepoel, symbol of a Belgium back at the top of world cycling

It’s done. Forty-four years after Johan De Muynck at the Giro d’Italia, Belgium has a new Grand Tour winner in the person of Remco Evenepoel. And because cycling loves these kinds of parallels, the success of the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl cyclist symbolizes more than anything else, more than anyone else, the return to grace of Belgium, which is once again becoming the greatest cycling nation. . When De Muynck won the Giro in 1978, Belgium was just emerging from the Merckx years, arguably the most prosperous years in its history.

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A time when the Belgians reigned supreme over the Monuments (45 between 1966 and 1978, including 3 Grand Slams in 1969, 1972 and 1976) but also multiplied the victories in the Grand Tours, in stages (13 for Maertens at the Vuelta 1977), as in the general classification (15, of which 11 for Merckx). An outrageous domination that suddenly ended in 1978. So, obviously, the Belgians continued to shine and win big races, such as the Paris-Roubaix but above all the Tour of Flanders (20 successes since 1978).

Internationalization, difficult period for Belgium

Some have even won the green jersey (Planckaert in 1988, Boonen in 2007), others have been world champions (Boonen in 2005, Gilbert in 2012) but the internationalization of cycling has progressively relegated Belgium to the “second level”, limiting it to a nation of “pebbles”. The best sprinter was sometimes Italian (Cipollini, Petacchi), German (Zabel, Kittel), Uzbek (Abdoujaparov), English (Cavendish), but never Belgian, despite Tom Boonen. The best riders of the Grand Tour were French (Hinault, Fignon), Italian (Nibali), Spanish (Indurain, Contador), English (Froome) or Slovenian (Roglic and Pogacar) but not Belgians.

Tom Boonen, the only great Belgian sprinter of the 2000s, wins at Gent Wevelgem 2012

Credit: AFP

Milan-Sanremo had become Spanish (Freire x3) and German (Zabel x4) land, but only a Belgian tamed it in 1981 and 2020. Liège-Bastogne-Liège became the prerogative of Valverde, winner of just as many editions (4) like all of Belgium in the twenty years preceding Evenepoel’s success. Without forgetting the Giro di Lombardia where only Gilbert (2009, 2010) has won for 42 years. But this era of scarcity is over. Belgium returns to the top of the world hierarchy at the end of a magical year for the “flat country”.

Belgium has the best in (almost) every area

The Belgians have won in particular the general Vuelta, the green jersey and six stages of the Tour de France, victory over Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Clasica San Sebastian, Flèche Wallonne, Bretagne Classic, Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Saxo-Bank Classico. In 2022, Belgium won 8 events on the World Tour calendar, more than any other nation, including Slovenia (6) of orcs Pogacar and Roglic.

No one has won more than her at the highest level, with 25 time trials, 10 more than her runner-up, Slovenia. Mountain, time trial, sprint, classics for puncheur as for flandriens … Belgium has simply won on all terrains this season, a consequence of the multiplication of stars, which Belgians can boast of in all fields.

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The best sprinter in the world in 2022? Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Belgian. The best Flandrian on the cycling planet? Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Belgian. The best boxer? In 2022 his name is Dylan Teuns (Israel-Premier Tech), another Belgian. The best roller in the world? The answer may be different at the World Cup in a week, but Evenepoel like Van Aert can claim this title. In the end, it is only in the mountains where Belgium cannot challenge the title yet, that Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) is fighting Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates).

Domain ready to last, like under Merckx?

But Evenepoel’s success, beyond the confirmation of a prodigious and all-terrain talent, is above all a love at first sight for Belgium, which for thirty years had completely disappeared from the fight for victory in the Grand Tour. Despite Kevin’s hopes Seeldrayers (10th in the Giro at 23) and above all Jurgen Van den Broeck (3rd in the Tour in 2010 and 4th in 2012). Someone will be able to attest that it is “only” the Vuelta … Yes, but.

Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) at the wheel of Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) during the 20th stage of the Vuelta 2022

Credit: Getty Images

France has still been waiting for Laurent Jalabert’s successor there since 1995 and six of the last ten winners of the event have several major laps to their credit. At 22, there is still no Remco Evenepoel, also Belgium, but both are back at the top of world cycling. And no one seems to be leaving for a long time. After all, the last time Belgium dominated cycling was for a whole decade.

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