The fallout between Wout van Aert and the Veranda’s Willems-Crelan team could end up in court after team manager Nick Nuyens filed a lawsuit for breach of contract, according to Sporza. The news comes days after Van Aert announced that he would race as an independent rider as he begins his cyclo-cross season.
Spokesperson Ward Callens confirmed to Sporza that the team "did not accept that reason” and that the matter had been referred to their lawyers.
It is the latest in a long-running saga that began with the proposed merger between Veranda’s Willems-Crelan and the Irish Pro Continental outfit, 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. He even sarcastically suggested that he would take a gap year before he is set to join the LottoNL-Jumbo team in 2020, though he had said that he would honour his contract.
At the end of August, Van Aert’s coach and mentor Niels Albert announced that he would leave the team due to personal reasons. In the weeks since, Van Aert’s relationship with the team, particularly Nuyens, has deteriorated.
On Wednesday, the day after the announcement, VTM Nieuws reported that Nuyens had tried to ‘force’ riders to sign a letter against Van Aert, though this has not been confirmed by either party. Van Aert’s lawyer Walter Van Steenbrugge later told the Belgian press that a ‘serious incident’ had occurred that made continuing the contract impossible.
Van Aert’s decision to pull out of his contract could spell the end to the merger between Veranda’s Willems-Crelan and Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij. Roompot team manager Michael Zijlaard told AD.nl that “the basis of the merger was that both teams would have an input, with the input of Wout van Aert on the Belgian side".
Amidst all of this, Van Aert has just begun his cyclo-cross season and is in the United States for the opening round of the World Cup in Waterloo, which takes place this Sunday, September 23.