Merckx had questioned the 21-year-old’s inclusion in the Belgium squad, particularly with Wout van Aert as the sole leader, going so far as to suggest he should not have been selected.
To his credit, Evenepoel let his actions do the talking on the 268-kilometre course in Flanders; with a “perfect” display he hopes might change Merckx’s mind.
“It’s not up to me to apologise,” Evenepoel said of the situation. “It was a special race. One of the most spectacular races of the year if you see from how far out the race kicked off.
“There were still five hours left to race. Then again, those five hours went by in a flash. It was incredible. I didn’t feel my legs when riding through the crowds. It was a unique experience.”
The Deceuninck Quick-Step star was involved in every move, keeping pace with two early breakaway groups and through the climbs to leave Belgium in the lead group just under 50 kilometres from the finish.
It was only within the final 26 kilometres that Evenepoel sat up; allowing van Aert and, in the end, Jasper Stuyven to contest the end of a race ultimately won by Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe.
“We rode a perfect race as a team,” he said. “It’s just the outcome that’s not as we hoped for. It’s a pity Wout lacked that additional touch which he still had in the Tour of Britain.
“There’s not much regret because he was there where he had to be. Jasper is fourth. It’s a pity we missed out on a medal and we’re not taking the jersey despite the race we rode.”
“Twice I managed to feature in the breakaway which put Wout and Jasper behind us in a comfortable position,” Evenepoel continued.
“Then they bridged up to us from behind which was a perfect scenario. Wout came over to me and asked to set a hard pace towards the Smeysberg which I did.
“I struggled to stay with the group on the climb but I hung on. Then it was up to me to ride flat out and empty myself when riding back towards Leuven. That’s what I did.
“All of the riders in that group of 17 riders were expected to ride away and were capable of winning.
“We were there with the three riders who were expected to be there. It was a good scenario for us.
“At the end of the race, the legs do the talking and mine were dead, and so were those from Jasper and Wout, I imagine.
“It was the man with the best legs who rode away to the win. If you finish solo on a course like this then it’s clear (Alaphilippe) was the strongest.
“We knew he would be good. He was already good in the Tour of Britain and we knew he would be even better one week later.
“He’s a rider with a lot of class.”
Evenepoel will now prepare for the II Lombardia to round out his season – the same race he sustained a major knee injury in late last year.