It was already well known that Remko Evenepol, a recent winner of the Vuelta a España, had a brilliant past as a footballer playing in the academies of top-level teams such as Anderletch and PSV and that he became a Belgian under-17 international, which until now has not been explained the reason why he suddenly decided at the age of 17 to leave a sport in which he was supposed to have a good future.
A year after he left football, he was already world champion in cycling
Jean Kindermans, director of the Anderletch youth academy, explained the reason why Remco Evenepoel suddenly decided to leave a sport in which he had excelled since he started at his youth academy at the age of 6: “He was angry for two consecutive shifts and He us said that she was leaving him, that she wanted to try like her father on the bike”.
The decision to leave football for cycling was surprising, but very wise, as only a year later he was named world junior cycling champion with insulting authority.
Anderletch’s youth academy manager recalls that Remco was always the standout in the physical tests: “Our physical coaches always highlighted Remco’s ability compared to his teammates. They were convinced that something could come of it. But no one could have predicted what was happening now. I’m just cheering.”
“He could have been a great triathlete”
Jean Kindermans remembers how Evenepoel dominated his peers in physical tests: “Even when he was very young. When he signed for PSV from the age of 11 to 24, his father told me that his son had a huge VO2 max. It’s not important at this age, but his father must have seen or felt that his son had a lot of physical attributes to excel in any sport. When he returned from PS to Anderlecht, his physical ability was already important. At 15 and 16, he had a lot of speed, strength and especially endurance. He never got tired.”
Was he an athlete who would do very well in any sport?: “It’s very simple. Our coaches often told me, ‘We don’t know if he can swim, but if he can swim, he could be a great triathlete.'” We knew his dad was a professional cyclist, so he had some cycling ability. He could run. very well and to run for a long time. And at a high pace. Swimming was a mystery to us. But look: he chose cycling and is among the best in the world. It’s fantastic.”
Kindermans also knows the anecdote about the Brussels half-marathon in 2016: “His coach, Stefan Stassin, had asked his players to rest on Sunday after a match on Saturday. But on Monday, Stasin came to tell me that Evenepool had passed him and he was among the best. He did 1:16 at just 16 years old. We weren’t surprised, but that might not have been appropriate when planning a football career at the time. This kid had a lot of energy left. The performances he gives now will have something to do with that incredibly great drive that characterized him in football.
“He was not a talented footballer to be a professional”
Kindermans gives the key to why he might become disillusioned with football and not become a professional footballer: “He could play football very well, otherwise you can’t stay in Anderlecht’s youth academy for so many years, but there was a moment in his career when it wasn’t enough good. And maybe he was impatient at one point in his career, too. At the age of 17, he had a difficult year in which Anderlecht was playing for the national under-17 title. The coach sent Remko to the bench for two games and it clicked in his head and he decided to leave the team.”
This impulsive decision at the age of 17 ended up benefiting him and made him stronger mentally: “All in all, if you look at everything calmly now, this step that seemed wrong 5 years ago, maybe made him even stronger mentally to build a fantastic cycling career.”
Asked if Evenepool was among the talents who could make it to the top level, Kindermans said emphatically no: “We have to be honest with that. Many people ask us this question. Being a youth national is not a guarantee. I’m not saying he could have been a good professional footballer, in fact he was a very good footballer for many years and also a highly valued man in the dressing room. He also had a lot of personality. He was the typical captain, always concerned about the welfare of his teammates, always pulling the team when things went wrong, but we have to be honest: we are here to bring players into the Anderlecht first team and in his case it was a very complicated thing “.