EVENEPOEL AND POGAČAR IN TOP FIVE OF ALL TIME

We wrote this article from Cyclelive Magazine No 76 - published on 19 January 2024, in honour of Remco Evenepoel's 24th birthday. Remco's birthday is on 25 January and for us that day is a milestone to test his palmares against those of the greatest riders in the history of cycling.

The year 2023 was a turbulent one for the talent boy from Schepdaal. From the corona troubles and abandonment in the Giro, an idiotic fall with a heavy off-day a few days later in the Vuelta, the flirtation(s) with Team Ineos, to the downright vaudeville in the press with persistent speculation about his future and the merger between Jumbo-Visma and Soudal-Quick-Step. In between still spectacular victories in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Classica San Sebastian, stage wins in Giro and Vuelta, BK and WC time trial. Talk about an eventful year.

But what some are beginning to see as almost normal, and others certainly do not appreciate, are the cartload of big wins Remco has achieved so far. It seems as if Evenepoel’s achievements are getting a bit covered up by those of Tadej Pogačar. But, is that justified? Has Tadej won so much more (quality)? Does he have so many more big wins on his record?

The answer is no!

"It seems like Evenepoel's achievements are getting a bit covered up by Tadej Pogačar's."

Comparison palmares

So we did a comparison of palmares up to the time the riders turned 24. An age when most pro riders are still dreaming of their first big win, while Remco already counts 50 UCI victories.

Tadej Pogačar is another such phenomenon. Tadej is a year and four months older than Remco and his record currently counts 63 UCI victories. Pogačar had the tally at 44 UCI wins before he turned 24.

Both Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar had another very nice season in 2023. Both also had some bad luck, which slowed them down anyway. Without that bad luck, their season would probably have looked even better. After seeing the number of UCI victories these phenomena already achieved, we got the unlikely urge to compare their palmares with the palmares of other greats of the past at that age. So that is what we are going to do in this article.

Remco Evenepoel, number 2 in our ranking, © Soudal Quick-Step / Getty Image
Tadej Pogacar here at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen is number 4 on our ranking

Remco does better than Tadej

The fact that Evenepoel is in reality the first pursuer of Eddy Merckx with his current palmares says everything about the greatness of the rider Evenepoel. That, moreover, he does even better than the other phenom of this era will probably come as a big surprise to many. However, according to our scoring system, Remco’s palmares are just slightly better than Tadej’s at that age. Both cycled an absolute top record so far, but Remco’s record at that age was only surpassed by the Cannibal!

Are we saying that Remco is intrinsically better than Tadej? No, that is not our intention and/or thesis. We are basing ourselves on the victories with which the Belgian, narrowly edged the Slovenian. Our scoring will be fodder for discussion, but any other approach will yield roughly the same result. All the time, Eddy is still well in the lead and Remco and Tadej are a short distance from each other in the absolute top of the all-time rankings. What that will give in the future is impossible to predict. A true connoisseur like José de Cauwer clearly rates Pogačar higher than Evenepoel. Looking purely at intrinsically versatile cycling talent, we think that might be the right assessment, but then again we think Remco has a greater will than Pogi. That he is just a little bit more willing… So who will end up with the biggest record is still written in the stars.

"But, is that right? No, because after analysing the palmares, it appears that Remco is doing better than Tadej"

Evenepoel is an individual. A vessel overflowing with talent. In everything he does, he is also different from the others. A unique cyclist and a young man with a very outspoken character. Someone every cycling fan has an outspoken opinion about. You are either ‘100% for’ or ‘100% against’ him. Apparently, there is almost no other option; it is white or black, very rarely grey.

Witness the comments that ‘cycling supporters’ utter on social media channels. The gloating when he briefly goes down – read having a down day, is therefore pathetic to read. That you are not a supporter of Evenepoel because you have more sympathy for another rider is entirely plausible. That some may not appreciate his very direct way of reacting and communicating may well be, after all, we are all different and we don’t have to like everyone. But respect for what Remco shows with the pedals is more than in order, because what Evenepoel has told with his legs so far leaves nothing to the imagination. Remco’s legs speak frequently and have already checkmated every critic!

Remco Evenepoel wins the BK 2023 © Soudal Quick-Step / Getty Image
Remco Evenepoel, Podium San Sebastian © Soudal Quick-Step / Getty Images

"'Remco's legs speak frequently and have already checkmated every critic"

Almost in the wide slipstream of Eddy Merckx

Evenepoel will turn 24 on 25 January 2024, only 24, and we compared the palmares – up to the 24th birthday – of the greatest riders from various eras. We chose 61 great names from different eras and different countries and compared them. That the winner listens to the name Eddy Merckx will not surprise anyone, but that he is followed at a relatively short distance by Remco Evenepoel will be a surprise to many. That this means he also beats that other current super talent Tadej Pogačar will also be described as ‘not expected’ by many cycling fans. Tadej occupies place four on our ranking with just 1 point less than Giuseppe Saronni who, however, was an early bloomer and did not continue for long on the momentum of before he was 24.

This point ranking therefore makes it more than clear that in these cycling times we are looking at two of the most exceptional champions in the entire history of cycling. Tadej continued firmly on his path in 2023 – the year after he turned 24 – and we are already curious to see what both men will have up their sleeves next season. We are already looking forward to the cutting-edge confrontations ahead in 2024.

"Apart from the unapproachable Merckx, only Guiseppe Saronni and Tadej Pogačar come close"

Interim balance

Yes, it is an interim balance sheet which is a snapshot in time. The final balance sheet is taken at the end of a career and there are plenty of examples of riders who, at a very young age, were able to produce great results and then completely faded away afterwards. Just think of Daniel Willems, who entered the pro peloton like a comet, but quickly faded away afterwards. Eric Vanderaerden also had his best years at 23 and 24, followed by another top year at 25, only to become less successful year after year. Similarly, we see with Giuseppe Saronni – who is in third place in our list – that he was very successful until he was 27 and then all of a sudden it was done with many (big) victories. The opposite is also true; there are plenty of examples of riders who had hardly won anything at 24 and by the end of the ride could boast an amazing record. Just look at what Jonas Vingegaard is doing now or how Philippe Gilbert built up a monument of a palmares after his 24th birthday.

But all the above does not take away from the fact that what Remco Evenepoel rode together today at that age is almost otherworldly. The trophy cabinet that is already crammed full somewhere in Evenepoel’s house is something most riders can only dream of being able to fill halfway through an entire career.

Figures prove the facts

The numbers from our study are clear. Apart from the still unapproachable Merckx, only Guiseppe Saronni and Tadej Pogačar come close to Evenepoel at this age. Remco has almost put himself in the wide slipstream of Eddy Merckx – the rider with the greatest palmares ever.

We wanted to compare a list of 60 names, but when we came across Jempi Monseré’s name, we decided to make it 61. Where would Jempi have ended up without that tragic accident in Retie in which he lost his life? We will never know, but as one of the greatest talents ever, he deserves a special mention here in this list.

We also know that we still have several riders not included in the list of champions. Alfredo Binda, Briek Schotte, Philippe Thijs, Ottavio Bottecchia, Nicolas Frantz, Louison Bobet, Lucien Van Impe, Luis Ocaña, Walter Godefroot, Maurizio Fondriest, Frederico Bahamontes, Bernard Thévenet, Marco Pantani, Abraham Olano, Joaquim Agostinho, Bradley Wiggins, etc… . All major lap winners, world champions and/or winners of major classics. We also did a quick check on them to see if they would be near the top….

But no, whether we take 61, 80 or 100 riders it doesn’t change anything in the standings:

1. Eddy Merckx
2. Remco Evenepoel

Eddy Merckx - the Cannibal of course at number 1
Remco Evenepoel tries to get into Eddy's slipstream and takes second place

"The all-time result is: 1. Eddy Merckx 2. Remco Evenepoel..."

Our points system

To look at the entire package of riders’ victories and make an acceptable comparison between them, we have developed our own point system.
– Grand Tours: overall win 10 points, stage win 2 points.
– World Cup: 10 points
– Classic monuments 8 points
– Classics: 5 points.
– Green Jersey or polka dot jersey in Tour de France: 5 points
– Paris-Nice, Tirreno Adriatico, Tour of Switzerland, Tour of Romandie: 6 points overall win and 1 point stage win
– National title + European Championship: 5 points
– Smaller stage races: overall win 4 points and stage win 1 point.
– Points jersey or mountain prize in Giro or Vuelta: 3 points
– Important time trials: 3 points
– Remaining races: 1 point.


Points system explanation:

Of course the points system can/will cause debate, but we see this as an opportunity to evaluate a record. Somewhere you have to find a denominator to categorise the different races and their importance.

We don’t want to use this to designate the greatest rider of all time, because every period has its champions. Different generations also have different opponents, new scientific approach, different courses and racing tactics. But in every generation it was still about the same goal viz: WIN, WIN as many big races as possible! That is why the palmares are still the best gauge of value.

Notes on palmares:

Fausto Coppi’s comparison with the others is somewhat flawed because his career is unintentionally halted by World War II. Of course, we know we are seriously shortchanging him with this scoring. With his career finally ended, he is and remains one of the greatest champions ever.

We should also note that since 1994 some titles have been added that did not exist in the time of Hinault and all the riders before him. Thus, the following races are a great advantage to pick up points for today’s riders:

1. The World Time Trial Championship only takes place from 1994
2. The BK and European time trial championships are organised only from 1997 onwards
3. The European Championships on the road have been organised since 1995

Results palmares until 24th birthday

Peter Sagan is number 6 in our ranking © Ruud de Backer

But let’s also not forget that in his time Merckx only had opponents in part of Europe and that today’s peloton has become much more international.

On the other hand, riders can now peak much more towards their big goals, where Merckx had to work from January to October to ride all the big and smaller races. High races now bring riders to their peak and there is a thorough selection in the race days so that top riders still regularly avoid each other. This is also the case with Evenepoel and Pogačar, who have not yet really caught up with each other in top condition. This was not the case before. Again, we do not want to look for the greatest rider of all time here, but rather for the greatest palmares of all time of cyclists until their 24th birthday. And in the end, the palmares always have the last word!

Conclusion:

We leave the conclusion to the reader himself, who can make and air his own interpretation and comments about this. Of course our points system will be fodder for discussion, but then you can still compare the toppers with another points system, which we did by the way. The top 10 will remain almost always the same. If the social media communications among supporters of different riders, about this are ventilated in a respectful way – to and for everyone – this will give everyone a lot of fodder for discussion, calculations and cycling fun again.

The most important thing in all this story is that we all realise that these are exceptional cycling times we are in now.

Let’s all enjoy it!!!

We post below the palmares until the 24th anniversary of Eddy Merckx, Remco Evenepoel and Tadej Pogačar. On this website, we will bring you the other palmares of the top 25 from 24 January 2024. Each time a great from history, with a short overview on his further career after that 24th birthday. A piece of history brought back to life.

Text, composition palmares and ranking – Teus Korporaal and Patrick Van Gansen

Remco Evenepoel

More news

More Articles