Wout van Aert vented his frustration after the 2020 Ghent-Wevelgem, criticising Dutch champion Mathieu van der Poel for negative tactics which saw the pair finish eighth and ninth respectively from the nine-man breakaway group.
Van Aert tried attacking from the leading group several times in the final kilometres of the Belgian Classic, but was tracked by Van der Poel as well as other riders in the group, leaving him frustrated as Mads Pedersen won from a four-man group that formed heading into the final kilometre. The Belgian closed several gaps to attackers as well in the finale of the race, but refused when the decisive move meant away, leaving he and Van der Poel in the chasing group behind.
"As expected, we entered the final with a small group", Van Aert told Sporza after the race. "I had good legs and I think I was among the better in the race. But in the end you have to gamble a bit and in the end I have no prize.
"There was really only one who looked at me the whole time," he added.
"Van der Poel, yes. Apparently he would rather that I lost than that he won himself. He may have forgotten that I already won a lot and at some point could also gamble. Now we both have nothing.
"I rode myself to win the race, but I was not given any freedom. I am disappointed because it was really possible. I would also have had a chance in the sprint. But I could not react to everything. And it was always the same who was in my wheel. "
In response, Van der Poel said it was a "strange reaction" from Van Aert, and that he "always rides to win."
The pair have been rivals for years mainly fighting it out in cyclocross, winning three world titles each in the last six editions of the World Championships. But now both are superstars on the road, with Van Aert the most in-form rider in the world this year after winning Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo, and two stages at the Tour de France since racing resumed in August.
"I actually think it's a strange reaction from Wout," Van der Poel said to Sporza the conclusion of Ghent-Wevelgem. "He is one of the best riders in that leading group. If he goes, I must of course respond. Otherwise they will say afterwards in the team: 'why did you let those men drive away?'
"I find it a bit low to say that I rode to make him lose. I always ride to win.
"I don't blame him either. I understand it too, because I actually went for him a few times. But again: I do that to win. He is simply one of the best riders in the world. This is just racing.
The pair will meet again in the final Monument of the season in a week, the Tour of Flanders. Both will be hoping to take victory in what will likely be their final race of the season following the cancellation of Paris-Roubaix.
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