Oliver Naesen has expressed his frustration at social media criticism levelled at him and his team-mate Greg Van Avermaet for their performances in the Classics so far, saying that there is favouritism towards Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
The Ag2r-Citroën pair both featured prominently in the E3 Saxo Bank Classic last Friday, with Naesen finishing fourth and Van Avermaet in sixth. They then were unable to make the front group in Ghent-Wevelgem two days later, chasing on over a minute behind for much of the race before finishing 16th and 12th respectively. Much of the criticism rose after E3 though, when they were accused of failing to prevent Kasper Asgreen from going solo from a group that contained two other Deceuninck-Quick-Step riders, Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers), and Van der Poel.
Earlier in the race the pair had made it into a splinter group containing Van Aert, Van der Poel and others prior to the final selection being made, with Naesen saying they were simultaneously criticised for working with the two stars and not hard enough when Asgreen finally escaped.
Naesen told Het Nieuwsblad before Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday: “Greg was criticised for not working with Wout and Mathieu while I was riding in front of them. I find that incomprehensible.
“After that we went full throttle with Mathieu, but Wout was out the back, and of course he is the darling of Flanders, so if you dare to do something like that, it’s very naughty, huh? There was criticism because we do not respond to Asgreen in the final. That was my responsibility, I know that too, but if you are on the limit, you can’t go any faster. The best man simply won.”
“Apparently that’s how it works now. Either you drive full gas without thinking too much, as we did, and then you have illiterate people online calling you stupid. Or you use your wits, but then you have slobs on the sofa calling you lazy.”
Former Belgian champion Naesen also pointed to apparent favouritism on social media towards Van Aert and Van der Poel. Van Aert is undoubtedly Belgium’s biggest star right now, having been consistently winning major races since turning to the road full time in 2019. Likewise Van der Poel is a major attraction for fans thanks to his aggressive racing style. Naesen said that fans should have more appreciation of the other riders, not just the superstars of cycling, and that for him and Van Avermaet it’s a case of “whatever you do… is wrong” for some fans when riding alongside Van Aert and Van der Poel.
“Whether I am angry with those people on social media? You can’t be mad at a donkey for being a donkey, can you? It is also quite right that Wout and Mathieu are now holy. But if I were a racing fan, I would approach that much more positively. It’s not that only two or three good guys participate and the rest are bad. No, there are two or three that are super good and that are at a level that we have not seen in a decade. But it’s not that the rest are miserable.
“Now it seems as if we suddenly no longer have a right to exist. ”
After failing to take victory in the final prelude to the Tour of Flanders on Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen, Naesen and Van Avermaet will be hoping for a change of fortunes in Sunday’s Monument in their first season riding together at Ag2r-Citroën Team.