The ongoing saga involving Wout van Aert's future continues to drag on with potential 2019 suitors Team Jumbo (formerly LottoNL-Jumbo) waiting on clarity from the UCI as to whether the talented cyclo-cross and road rider can sign a contract for next season.
Van Aert tore up his existing contract with his current paying agent, Sniper Cycling, despite initially having a deal in place for next season. He had signed a contract with Team Jumbo for 2020 onwards but issues surrounding Sniper Cycling's shaky future encouraged Van Aert to look for greater stability and the hope of starting his tenure a season earlier than first planned.
The UCI appeared to give Van Aert's desire to move the green light but Sniper's lawyers are still arguing their case, which is still going through the motions in the Belgian courts. Team Jumbo continue to exercise caution, and although they have signed off on the budget to pick up Van Aert a year earlier than planned, they are still waiting for official documents that prove the Belgian rider is a free agent.
"His manager has told us that he's free but that's something that still needs clarity. We are not involved in the dispute between any of the parties and we remain impartial," Jumbo's Merijn Zeeman told Cyclingnews.
Team Jumbo appear unwilling to make an official move for Van Aert while the dispute with Sniper rumbles on, and while Zeeman declined to comment further, Cyclingnews understands that the Dutch squad are monitoring the situation closely but are not willing to risk the wrath of either the UCI or Sniper over the matter.
Roglic and Kruijswijk to lead Grand Tour plans
While uncertainly surrounds Van Aert's future, Zeeman and the rest of the backroom staff at Team Jumbo also have the responsibility of planning the team's Grand Tour schedule for next year. This season the Dutch outfit turned up at the Tour de France with Primoz Roglic, Steven Kruijswijk and Dylan Groenewegen. They would arrive in Paris with three stage wins and both of their GC prospects inside the top 10. With George Bennett in the frame, and the emergence of talents such as Sepp Kuss and Antwan Tolhoek, the WorldTour team have plenty of options for next season, though Zeeman would not rule out sending Dylan Groenewegen, Kruijswijk and Roglic to the Tour once more.
"Planning has gone very well. We've made the group a lot stronger, from staff to riders, and everyone is behind the goal setting that we're going through," he said. "We're working towards new goals and we've set ourselves a five-year plan. That doesn't involve one or two people, we want everyone on the team to be involved in it, so that they can see it's their plan too. For me, that's the most important thing.
"We want to be a place where talent can develop, so riders like Tolhoek and Kuss can combine free roles with supporting roles. That's a key point in our team. We start our plans with the leaders but then we also look at lot at the next talents. We've made a really good plan for Toke and Kuss. We have two guys at the top with Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk and then Bennett of course, but we also need some moments when others are the leaders. We'll create moments when George is the leader but others when he will help other riders on the team. We want everyone to have their chances next year."
While Van Aert remains a potential signing, the team have already bolstered their Classics armoury with the signing of Mike Teunissen from Sunweb and Tony Martin as a useful back-up. Danny van Poppel's programme will also change, with the Dutch rider focusing more on the Classics.