In August, Wout van Aert joked that he might take a sabbatical in 2019 but he may well be forced to do so if he is unable to find a solution to his ongoing legal problems with Sniper Cycling. Van Aert’s manager and lawyer are looking for a way to get the Belgian into LottoNL-Jumbo colours by this January but Sniper Cycling refuses to allow the move without financial compensation from the rider.
Van Aert already has a three-year deal in place with LottoNL-Jumbo, starting in 2020, but Cyclingnews revealed last month that the Dutch outfit had tabled a new deal after he quit his Veranda’s Willems-Crelan [owned by Sniper Cycling -ed] team a year earlier than planned.
Sniper Cycling has since filed a lawsuit to sue Van Aert for breach of contract, which reached the Belgian courts just a few weeks ago. The case could rumble on for a year and Van Aert is unable to sign for a new team until such time as it is resolved. In theory, Van Aert could ride for LottoNL-Jumbo if he was to get permission from Sniper Cycling, but there appears to be next to no chance of that happening.
Instead, Van Aert’s lawyer Walter Van Steenbrugge has presented the issue to the UCI in the hope that they will rule that the rider does not have to honour the contract. Van Steenbrugge is expecting an answer from cycling’s governing body by the end of the month.
"We will not get that agreement from Sniper, we do not count on that," Van Steenbrugge, told Het Laatste Nieuws. "But in view of the urgent reasons, we have presented the case to the UCI. If the agreement of the UCI is there, there is nothing that prevents Wout van Aert from signing at Jumbo. I expect news in the course of November."
Tensions between Van Aert and Sniper cycling became apparent in August when it was announced that Veranda’s Willems-Crelan would merge with Aqua Blue Sport in 2019, an announcement that was quickly retracted and denied. That deal would never happen and a merger between the Belgian team and Roompot-Nederlanse Loterij was confirmed by the end of that month.
On social media, Van Aert made it clear that the riders had been kept out of the loop throughout all the discussions and even joked that he could take a sabbatical year in 2019. Following the confirmation of the merger, he voiced his displeasure at the decision.
However, it seemed that Van Aert would go ahead with the contract until mid-September when he announced that he would leave the team with immediate effect. He dd not reveal the exact details of what had gone on behind the scenes but said that his position within the team had become untenable. His lawyer later said that a specific incident had been the catalyst for the decision, but did not specify.
A lawsuit was filed by the team two days later, while Van Aert headed to the United States to start his cyclo-cross season in a logo-free jersey. He has since moved to Cibel-Cebon for the remainder of the cyclo-cross season.
Sniper Cycling says that it has lost sponsors as a direct result of Van Aert’s departure and will not release the rider from his contract without financial compensation.
"We do not agree if we do not receive financial compensation from Wout van Aert first," Sniper Cycling’s lawyer Rudi Desmet told Het Laatste Nieuws. "Because of Van Aert's breach of contract, we lost sponsors."
Desmet dismisses the idea that the UCI will negate the contract. "Then a contract is worth nothing. If the UCI goes along with that, cycling is a big problem."