Cyclo-Cross World champion Wout Van Aert will debut his new logo-free rainbow jersey Sunday at the first UCI World Cup in Waterloo, Wisconsin, after terminating his contract with his Veranda's Willems-Crelan team last week.
Van Aert was seen Saturday during a trial ride on the Waterloo course wearing a plain white rainbow-striped jersey free of any logos but prominently featuring large black letters of his initials "WVA" on the chest, according to a report and photos posted on Nieuwsblad.be. Van Aert, who was riding a Stevens bike, was also wearing plain black shorts with rainbow-stripe trim on the cuffs and his initials on the back.
The sponsor-free jersey is the latest development in a long-running saga that began with the proposed merger between Veranda’s Willems-Crelan and the Pro Continental team Aqua Blue Sport. Hours after it was announced that the two had merged, it was denied by the Belgian team and Aqua Blue eventually folded in dramatic circumstances.
A merger was then completed between Veranda’s Willems-Crelan and Dutch team Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij. The move was supposed to be the best of both worlds for the teams, with each set to lose a sponsor at the end of this season. However, Van Aert had voiced his displeasure at the constant announcements, complaining that he and the other riders were not being kept afloat of the developments.
Van Aert's coach Niels Albert left the team for personal reasons, and Van Aaerts 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 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.
Veranda's Willems-Crelan has since filed a lawsuit against Van Aert for breach of contract.
In a lengthy Instagram post, Van Aert said his ability to race in Sunday's World Cup opener was the result of a lot of work from a lot of people.
"Normally I’m not a fan of long instagram posts but today I think it’s worth it," Van Aert wrote. "It’s been a hectic week with a lot of stress and a lot of doubts for me. I arrived in the USA on Tuesday without certainty of racing this weekend. Thousand messages and phone calls later I am race ready. We even managed to get my new bikes exactly the same like I was used to! It feels so great and unbelievable at the same time to realize this project in only 4 days."
Van Aert thanked a long list of people and sponsors who helped make it possible to race on Sunday, including his manager and the UCI for expediting a revised license.
"Last but not least I want to thank everyone that sended a message or supported me in any possible way," Van Aert wrote. "Never before the support of my fans felt so warm and merciful then last week. See you all tomorrow!"