Throughout the 1990’s as they dominated the Classics scene across Europe, the Belgian Mapei superteam epitomised their Latin ethos of Vincere Insieme as they swept up victories left right and centre from a handful of different riders.
Translated to English, it means to win together, and more than a decade later Jumbo-Visma are repeating their same Classics dominance, but under a different phrase with a similar meaning, Samen Winnen, winning together.
Wout van Aert’s willingness to sacrifice his own ambitions for those of his teammate Christophe Laporte at Gent-Wevelgem lived and breathed that ideology. It was a continuation of Jumbo-Visma’s collectivism which has already brought them huge success this spring.
Before Sunday’s result, no other team had managed to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the E3 Saxo Classic, and Gent-Wevelgem in the same season. Although on the penultimate ascent of the rain-soaked Kemmelberg, Van Aert and Laporte set to work to ensure Jumbo-Visma became the first to do so.
When the finish arrived, handing the win to Laporte also bought Van Aert the undying loyalty of a perfect ally to help him achieve his Tour of Flanders dream next Sunday.
Brought in from Cofidis prior to the 2022 season, Laporte was instrumental in much of his team’s success last year. Van Aert knew this, and discussing the decision making behind handing Laporte the win in Wevelgem, he highlighted the Frenchman's willingness to work for their shared goals post-race to the media.
“He is such a team player, so it was an easy decision,” Van Aert said, thinking ahead to the final phase of racing in the dust of Flanders next weekend. The Belgian will need all the team players he can muster if he is to overcome the looming threat of Tadej Pogačar.
In the aftermath of it all, those questioning Van Aert have evidently missed the bigger picture.
How could he possibly have given away such a result when he was the strongest rider on the Kemmelberg? Where was the killer instinct in him, and why didn’t he ride away when Laporte faded on the final ascent?
Firstly, Van Aert had just landed a morale boosting win over his Flanders rivals at the E3 Saxo Classic on Friday, he didn’t need yet more assurance of his own ability. He doesn’t need to prove anything.
Not having a second Gent-Wevelgem title on his palmarès isn’t suddenly going to put Van Aert out of work in his post-racing career. A second win would have meant little compared to the significance of winning Flanders or Paris-Roubaix in the coming fortnight.
Instead, Van Aert opted to go all in for a teammate proving that the words Samen Winnen have weight to him, and you really cannot buy that type of team spirit reverberating around Jumbo-Visma currently.
Cycling has moved on since the likes of Tom Boonen and Van Aert’s other critics were active in the peloton. The current generation understands there are other ways to win that don't require bulldozing all before you, furthermore teammates don’t exist solely for the purpose of handing bottles and food to their leaders.
Speaking to HLN, Johan Museeuw suggested Van Aert may look back on this particular moment in retirement and be full of regret.
“In 15 years, Wout might think back to this moment and be angry with himself,” he said, adding his voice to the chorus of ex-Belgian riders, including Eddy Merckx, who while admitting that they understood the thinking behind it, also questioned Van Aert’s final decision to simply hand over Gent-Wevelgem to the Frenchman.
Meanwhile Boonen even suggested to Sporza that the duo should have sprinted it out, implying that Laporte’s win looked good solely from a marketing point of view, and that giving away Gent-Wevelgem was a bigger loss to Van Aert than the previous victory he handed to Laporte at Paris-Nice.
Clearly anticipating the naysayers, Van Aert begged to differ, recognising the importance of sometimes putting your teammates over your own agenda. Laporte was yet to win a major Classic, so it made sense to help a loyal, trusted lieutenant add to his list of wins as they built form together, and team morale ahead of the races still to come.
"FRIENDS ARE GOOD ON THE DAY OF BATTLE"
Plus, the pair appear to genuinely be friends. “People at home only see this race, but Christophe is a good friend,” Van Aert said. “We have been on the road together for a whole year… and when you get into this situation, it would feel strange to sprint against one another.”
In the heart of the Somme battlefields of the First World War in France, there is an ancient Gaelic proverb, carved into the memorial to the 51st Highland Division near Beaumont Hamel.
"La a'Blair s'math n Cairdean" which in English translates to “friends are good on the day of battle”.
As they traversed the battlefields further north around Ypres, riding away from Laporte on the Kemmelberg would have been a kick in the teeth to a friend who has proved so invaluable for Jumbo-Visma and Wout Van Aert to date. A friend that he will want firmly by his side when the inevitable attacks from Mathieu van der Poel rain down on the Oude Kwaremont on Sunday.
“It was a dream of mine- like winning a stage of the Tour de France- to win a Classic, and I’ve done it now, thanks to the team and thanks to Wout,” Laporte said as he reflected on the significance of his latest win in the colours of his new team.
On paper, Laporte could feasibly win either Flanders or Roubaix himself in the coming weeks. Although Samen Winnen, winning together, may well prove more important. Now that one man’s Classics dream has been fulfilled, expect to see him going all out to help another achieve his Flanders dream on Sunday.
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