Remco Evenepoel, new leader of the Tour of the Basque Country: ‘If I had the legs, I had to go’

“Did you expect to be in yellow in the Tour of the Basque Country, ahead of the big favorites, the day before the finish?
I had been looking for form for a while; it wasn’t there at Tirreno-Adriatico, but since then I’ve spent almost three weeks at altitude, in Tenerife. It is a source of pride for me to stand there, in yellow, for Roglic, for Yates in a race as difficult as the Basque Country. It gives me a lot of confidence, mental strength. Today (Friday), they weren’t the hardest climbs of the week, but the course of the stage made it difficult. The leading group left after 70 km so we were fighting for almost two hours. But I felt good, I didn’t have a hard time.

Saturday’s stage is formidable, with the two most difficult climbs of the event, the Krabelin and Usartza climbs, classified in the first category. Does that scare you?
No, a leader’s jersey gives strength. My teammates, the DS, the whole team, we are going into the last day with a lot of rest. We saw that we were among the best of the favorites group today so we have to go. If I have such good legs tomorrow, there will be a lot to do. My teammates count on me and I count on them. We have Remi (cavagna) who can control the pack like no other, we have good climbers, Loulou (Julian Alaphilippe)Dries (Devenyns)Mauri (Vansevenant)James (Knox)† So far everything has gone very well: today we finished first, three times second, third (Friday) and I am a leader. If we can finish with the yellow jersey, I think we can speak of a perfect week.

“We have to believe in ourselves, in our legs and in our strengths. We will need the Wolfpack mentality.

Have you planned your attack today?
Yes. The last ascent (if we don’t count the wall at the end) was a nearly seven kilometer climb with a very, very steep first half, 10-12%. And then there was another flat area, a place where usually everyone tries to recover. This is the time of impostors, this is where to go if others want to catch their breath. Today a lot of guys were a bit on the edge and we were able to get out. That was the plan for the stage: if I had the legs, I had to go.

What will your strategy be tomorrow (Saturday)?
The best situation would be that I keep the step! It will be a very short stage (135 km) but very tough. I hope me and the team can handle it, I hope Martinez will have a bad day too! In fact, we must believe in ourselves, in our legs, and in our strengths. We need the Wolfpack mentality. †