Much was made in the build-up to the recent World Championships of the cohesion between the two mighty Belgian talents Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel, Eddy Merckx even dipping his toe in the waters of the discussion, and the saga has rolled on into the proceeding week to give the cycling world something to talk about during the wait for Paris-Roubaix.
Evenepoel had quashed all the doubters as he rode his heart out for Wout van Aert and Jasper Stuyven, the home fans chanting his name after he'd been dropped and continued his way around the Leuven circuit, but then told Belgian TV afterwards he believed he had the legs to win on the day as Van Aert stumbled.
"It was a team meeting on Friday afternoon. I thought the explanation to me was a bit unclear, after which I had a questionable night. I went to [national team coaches] Sven [Vanthourenhout] and Serge [Pauwels] on Saturday. After the recon I had the feeling that there were opportunities for me on the course to ride away and that there were scenarios in which I could win," Evenepoel explained to Sporza.
"I said that flatly, but Wout's card would be drawn. Then I quickly turned the switch and did everything for the team. There were two leaders and I was a servant, simple."
“Remco's explanation disturbed me,” Van Aert responded later in the week. “We went to the World Championships as a team. I do want to commend the national coach for how he has done that.
“I expected that there would be criticism because we didn't win. Only then would everything have been perfect and otherwise there would always be criticism. I can accept that, but from someone within the team, I don't think it's wise to add fuel to the fire. I think Remco told Koers a lot more in Extra Time [the Belgian TV show in question] than he said in the team meeting. I think there were never any problems and it is very easy to talk like that afterwards.
“I think he was the one who agreed with the tactics, who agreed with the selection. He's been announcing how he was looking forward to it for weeks on end, so I think it's really weird to turn 180 degrees now."
That should be it on the matter, at least until Wollongong 2022 rolls around. In the meantime, Wout van Aert's final big date on this year's calendar - Paris-Roubaix.
"If you like to paddle over cobblestones, you'll be as happy as a kid to come here," Van Aert told Sporza after his course recon.
"In a tough race like the World Championships you can feel good for a long time, but in the end the legs ran empty. I'm curious how much is left in the tank on Sunday. The cobblestone roads are just farm roads. That regularly causes mud on the road. Whether it rains a lot or not, there will be treacherous passages anyway."
"It's not that bad in training, I didn't meet Alaphilippe there," Van Aert joked. "Today I had surplus." Whoever ends up having surplus on Sunday will likely find themselves crossing the finish line in the velodrome first.
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