It is difficult to overstate just how big a star Remco Evenepoel is in Belgium right now. The man from the Flemish Brabant is on all the newspaper front pages, back pages, and fills most of the column inches in between.
He was already famous, the face of Pizza Hut in Belgium, but in becoming the first man from the country to win a Grand Tour since 1978, he has been elevated to superstardom.
The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider’s triumph at the Vuelta a España has catapulted him into sporting history. Forget Denmark going mad for Jonas Vingegaard after the Tour de France, Belgium has now gone Remco-mad. It might take a while for the 22-year-old to recover from this.
Belgians might have won 48 separate editions of the five Monuments (Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia) since that last Grand Tour win, but this is the big one, the one Belgium was waiting for.
On Sunday night, the young man received a call from the King of the Belgians, Philippe, to congratulate him on his victory; even royalty bows to the Vuelta winner. This is how big this result is for the country, a place where cycling is almost a religion.
Videos from his home town of Schepdaal show it going crazy for their hero, and the mayor of the municipality has already declared his intention to make Evenepoel an honorary citizen. No matter what he does in the rest of his career now, he is already a legend back home.
At the finish in Madrid on Sunday night, not only was Evenepoel greeted by his fiancée, Oumi Rayane, who is now famous in her own right, but by Belgium’s first choice goalkeeper, Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois, who presented him with a signed shirt.
Perhaps fortunately for the young Belgian, he is not heading back home just yet, instead flying direct to Australia for the World Championships, which start this weekend. Any space between Evenepoel and the media frenzy that will surely greet him in Belgium must be a good thing for him.
Quick-Step will want to avoid the kind of celebrity and overwhelming celebrations that saw Vingegaard step back and take a break from racing after his Tour exertions; a trip to Australia might delay this, but it won’t prevent the inevitable.
However, Evenepoel is a different figure, much more confident and already used to his celebrity, even if this has stepped up another notch now.
In Schepdaal, along with the general partying and Remco-mania, the local patisserie even made Vuelta-themed eclairs for purchase, so one could even celebrate while having a cake.
The Vuelta victory might be undermined a little due to the withdrawal of Primož Roglič, but Evenepoel was a worthy winner, and with 36 professional wins by the age of 22, it remains to be seen how much further he can go in the sport.
For now, though, Belgium will celebrate, and Evenepoel will try and block out the adulation; there are more races to be won.