"There has always been a 'storm' around me and the team" - Remco Evenepoel believes merger rumours and outside pressure played a part in quiet end to the season at Il Lombardia

Remco Evenepoel was unable to bring his 2023 season to a glorious end at Il Lombardia on Sunday, finishing ninth overall amidst much media pressure and transfer talk.

Speaking to Sporza after picking up the award for the best male Belgian cyclist for the third time in his career, Evenepoel reflected on what has been a hectic few weeks for both himself and the Soudal - Quick-Step team. "I thought I would prepare quietly for Il Lombardia for 3 weeks but that wasn't the case at all. It was certainly not optimal," Evenepoel said. "Those rumours did not just come out of nowhere – there must have been some truth to them. But it was difficult for me to say anything about it because I knew nothing about it."

Whilst the much-discussed plans for a merger between Soudal - Quick-Step and Jumbo-Visma ultimately no longer seem to be happening, rumours of Evenepoel's future have also hit the headlines throughout the year.

"There has always been a 'storm' around me and the team. That storm never subsided. That has meant that there have often been frustrations and some clashes during this period. The entire outside world should know this when it comes to next year," he added. "It was an unpleasant period. You ride with the Soudal - Quick-Step jersey, but you don't know whether you'll still be wearing that jersey next year. But all's well that ends well."

"In 2024 everything is towards the month of July," Evenepoel concludes. "A stage win would be great. Then I want to see how long I can follow the two kings of the Tour, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). Then when we reach Nice, we'll see where my 'ship' makes its landfall."

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