A lot has already been said, written and speculated about Belgian talent Remco Evenepoel who last weekend stood head and shoulders above the competition to score a remarkable double of junior world time trial and road titles in Innsbruck.
I am to an extent adding to that cacophony here: a comment piece with his name in the headline. Sure, I’ve dressed it up as a word of caution for his and others’ well-being. But it is still another remote opinion centred on the prospects of an 18-year-old lad of considerable talent.
They say he’s the next Eddy Merckx (and Eddy Merckx says he quite something). In response, Remco Evenepoel says he’s the ‘new me’ – which, unless he’s undergone some reformation (which maybe as an ex-footballer he has), actually doesn’t make much sense. But that kind of illustrates the problem.
Here is a boy, thrust in front of the cameras with, as a result of his prolific palmarès, a (cycling) world of expectation on his shoulders. There are articles about him everywhere – analysis and opinions on what he says, does or might do. Yes, he’s the best junior bike racer in the world. But there’s plenty of evidence and anecdote that prodigious talent is no sure guarantee of full blown future stardom. I feel he shouldn’t yet have to take on the responsibility of it.
Then again: maybe I’m being precious, bestowing snowflake status on a rider who appears brimming with confidence and showboats like the best of them.
I called him a boy. But he’s 18: a man. Old enough to vote, drive, drink and go to prison in most jurisdictions. If he’s in agreement with Quick Step’s view that he’s good enough to skip the under-23s and go straight into the World Tour next season, that’s his decision. Burnout or going off the rails can happen, but it’s not like they’ve signed an under-12.
Why is it then that I still feel a certain uneasiness about the hyperbole that surrounds remarkably gifted young riders? Maybe it’s the opportunity others too readily find in them. To snap ‘em up early. And to market them now. Because youth are easy money. By definition: exploitable. Easily influenced and easily sellable. And with long term prospects to boot.
Take Tom Pidcock (above) for instance: Britain’s own version of Evenepoel – junior cross and time trial world champion last year, and another finish-line showman. Now, after a winter under the stewardship of Sven Nys and a summer with Bradley Wiggins, his management agents have built his own cross team around him– principally, as I see it, because of his potential marketability.
I’ve really no grounds to publicly opine on what is the best thing for Pidcock’s development as a rider. Nonetheless I’m happy to propose it as a question to discuss amongst yourselves.
Ultimately Pidcock’s agents are acting in what Pidcock deems his interests. He hires them and he instructs them. He’s over 18 too and no one’s being coerced.
If you still have concerns about the fast-track escalator young cycling talent is willingly riding at a perceived detriment to their development, well-being and well-roundedness, then we (the media and consumers of it) are maybe just as much part of the problem.
Last year, Rouleur made Tom Pidcock its cover story. The photo had everything: World champ’s bands, stunts, youth, and pyrotechnics. It would have been neglectful editorship not to have it on the cover.
The argument goes that this is the world we live in. The impotent question is: should it be?