The legal battle between Wout van Aert and his 2018 team, Veranda's Willems-Crelan, is almost at an end, while Dutch WorldTour team, LottoNL-Jumbo, have tabled a new multiple-year deal for the talented all-rounder.
Van Aert walked away from Veranda's Willems-Crelan in September after falling out with the team's management. He had a contract with the team for 2019 but their near collapse and final merger with Roompot for next season created a possible out for Van Aert.
In September, Van Aert's coach, Niels Albert, also left the team for personal reasons, and Van Aert's relationship with team manager Nick Nuyens continued to deteriorate until Van Aert "unilaterally terminated" his contract with the team on September 18.
The next day, Van Aert's lawyer, Walter Van Steenbrugge, told Sporza that Van Aert was ready to ride the cyclo-cross season as "an independent rider, as a kind of lonesome cowboy", reiterating that the talented young Belgian is refusing to pay any form of get-out clause or penalty after terminating his contract.
In the last few weeks, Van Aert has raced cyclo-cross but without his team's name on his jersey.
The legal case is still pending the UCI's decision and ruling on the rider's contract with Sniper Cycling, which is the paying agent for Veranda's Willems-Crelan. Until that matter is resolved, Van Aert cannot sign a second contract as this would contravene the UCI's rules.
According to one source, Van Aert's lawyers are exploring the possibility of allowing their client to sign a contract pending the final verdict in the case.
LottoNL-Jumbo have already discussed a contract for 2019 with Van Aert. Before the legal dispute, Van Aert had signed a contract with the team from 2020 onwards but the management of the team are confident that, despite using up their 2019 budget, the team's board will release additional funds in order to add an additional season onto Van Aert's contract. This would essentially mean Van Aert would sign a four-year deal with the team, if reports of an initial three-year deal are confirmed. LottoNL would not comment publicly on the matter.
The dispute between Sniper and Van Aert could become irrelevant at the start of January 2019 anyway, regardless of the current legal dispute. The paying agent for the merger between Roompot and Veranda's Willems-Crelan will change at the start of the year and, under normal circumstances, the team must have the permission from the athlete to swap out new contracts for old ones. So, from 2019 Sniper will no longer exist and if Van Aert digs his heels in he could be a free agent regardless. The merger between Veranda's Willems-Crelan and Roompot has ensured that the new team has budget for one year and they are now planning ahead as if Van Aert is no longer on their roster for 2019.
At the same time, sources close to LottoNL have already started planning on the assumption that Van Aert will be their rider next season. The end of October typically marks the point when teams lay out plans for the forthcoming season and LottoNL are no different in that sense.
The team currently have 27 riders on their 2019 roster - they've yet to officially announce Tony Martin but that will take place in the coming weeks - and the signing of Van Aert would bring them to 28.
It is likely that Van Aert will be allowed to continue racing cyclo-cross, should a move to LottoNL take place. He has around 30 races on his schedule this winter.