We found Evenepoel's number 1 fan: “Remco will succeed in the crazy challenge I gave him…. in 2018”

The photo immortalizing the challenge between Wim and Remco.
Wim Willaert does not go unnoticed in the Basque Country. ©DR

”It all started in 2018, explains the man who made the trip to the Basque Country by car, in two days, with his cousin Yves Lapeire. Remco had just won the junior world title and he came to race in Heerstert for his last race before turning professional. I quickly realized that it was a phenomenon and I started following it at that time.”

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During the challenge, his dad laughed in my face.

He quickly sympathized with the Brabançon family and joined the R.EV fan club. On December 8, 2018, Wim and Remco meet at Bar Gidon in Geraardsbergen. And the first offers a slightly crazy challenge to the second. “In the past, I was a big fan of Freddy Maertens, winner of 55 victories in one year (1976) and of Lucien Van Impe, who won the Tour de France in 1976. So I gave a challenge to Remco: win 55 victories among professionals or the Tour de France, before 2026.”

That day, around the table, there was mockery. “Remco had not yet run a single professional race and even Patrick, his dad, laughed in my face.” But the man who was then a promising young runner still signed the paper formalizing the bet between the two men.

The photo immortalizing the 2026 challenge between Wim and Remco.
The photo immortalizing the 2026 challenge between Wim and Remco. ©DR

Remco is missing a victory to succeed in the bet: “The stickers are ready”

With… two years ahead of the deadline, Remco Evenepoel is now on the verge of achieving the famous challenge. He currently has 54 professional victories. The 55th is therefore perhaps for this week. “I prepared stickers with the number 55, to distribute themsmiles Wim, convinced that the Basque race is the right one. But I would still have come this far without it. I go to all the Remco races in Europe.”

On which stages will Evenepoel try to make the difference in the Tour of the Basque Country? “Every day will be a spectacle”

Retired and suffering from Parkinson's disease, Wim spares no effort to follow his idol. “Last week, I made the Ostend-Schepdaal round trip twice. Once to pick up my hospitality pass for the Tour of the Basque Country, which cost me €140, and another time to bring flowers to Agna, Remco’s mother, for her birthday.”

Besides this, Wim also created several banners in honor of Evenepoel. Which makes him recognizable among the mass of fans. “I also distribute Remco caps to children I see on the side of the road. And when Remco wins, we can see all the satisfaction in the eyes of the families, he smiles. VS“It’s a way for me to convey my passion and represent all the supporters.”

A special relationship: “I think Remco thinks I’m a little crazy”

Over the years, this unconditional fan has inevitably created a special relationship with the Soudal Quick-Step runner. “When he sees me, he always says hello. But I think he thinks I'm a little crazy (laughs). During the Tour of the Valencian Community, a few years ago, he gave me the winner's bouquet, which made me happy. But I also remember asking him for a photo at the Clasica San Sebastian. He… refused it and told me that I had already had enough! I had traveled 2,000 kilometers for him and he got back on the bus”laughs Wim.

Remco and Soudal Quick-Step have authorized Wim Willaert to give bottles to riders during the 2023 Vuelta.
Remco and Soudal Quick-Step have authorized Wim Willaert to give bottles to runners during the 2023 Vuelta. ©DR

On the 2023 Vuelta, the Ostend resident also experienced superb moments as a… trainer. “I gave bottles to the team at the start and end of the stages. Remco asked the staff for permission and they agreed for me to do it. At the end of the race, Iljo Keisse sent me a warm message thanking me for being there. It touched me”ends the one who has a collection (”almost a museum”specifies his cousin) of… 22 jerseys signed by Remco Evenepoel. “And he promised me a signed yellow jersey if he succeeded in his challenge. But I told him that as he had already succeeded in the challenge, he had to succeed in both parts: 55 victories and the final victory in the Tour de France.” A Tour de France on which Wim will, obviously, be present. Because when we love, we don't count.

Landa, a Basque star ready to do anything for Evenepoel: “He wants to learn French to be close to Remco”

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