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Bakelants hits back as Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert boss questions team's performances

SAINTGAUDENS FRANCE JULY 13 Jan Bakelants of Belgium and Team Intermarch Wanty Gobert Matriaux in breakaway during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 16 a 169km stage from Pas de la Casa to SaintGaudens LeTour TDF2021 on July 13 2021 in SaintGaudens France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Jan Bakelants in the breakaway on stage 16 of the Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Tensions have emerged within the Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert camp as the Belgian team endure a difficult first Tour de France as a WorldTour squad.

Team boss Hilaire Van Der Schueren issued a blunt assessment of his riders’ performances on Monday, and Jan Bakelants hit back, verbally and in the saddle by going on the attack during stage 16. 

"I choked on my coffee in the morning," the 35-year-old said of reading his boss’ comments in Het Nieuwsblad on Tuesday.

"If there is so much dissatisfaction with the team, why is it in the newspaper and I haven't heard it on the team bus yet?"

Van Der Schueren had highlighted mitigating circumstances, citing the abandons of Loïc Vliegen and Jonas Koch, plus the injuries suffered by Lorenzo Rota and Georg Zimmerman, but made it clear he expected more.

"Our sponsors are happy to be in the Tour, but that doesn't mean I'm happy," he said. "Now we are in the WorldTour and our riders earn more, but they show less. Find the error."

Van Der Schueren questioned the mentality of his sprinter, Danny van Poppel, who has one top-five finish to his name, from stage 13.

"The first time he had problems with the knee, the second sprint it was his gears, the third time his brake. I went to check: there was nothing wrong with that brake, but he still felt something. It's in his head. That knee pain... how come? The smart guy had tried other racing shoes. You don't put on new shoes in the Tour."

As for Bakelants, he came in for criticism for failing to make the breakaway on either of the weekend's stages. The Belgian rider did, however, make it up the road on Tuesday alongside Lorenzo Rota, placing eighth on the stage as his teammate placed 10th. 

Afterwards, he had his say.

"I thought it was weak how Hilaire Van der Schueren expressed it in the newspaper. The way in which he said that could be better – more diplomatic," Bakelants said.

"I think my opinion is always more balanced and perhaps more correct. You also have to put it in perspective. If you add up the wages of our riders, it is not a million euros – far from it. I know what I have, and it is small change. Then you should not be measured by the standards of the other teams. Look at Ineos Grenadiers, at Deceuninck-QuickStep; one rider effectively costs more than our entire Tour team combined. Come on, I don't think that's fair to compare."

The breakaway Bakelants supposedly missed on Saturday contained Louis Meintjes, who made some time gains on the general classification and is riding as the team’s leader. The South African lies 15th overall, half an hour down on race leader Tadej Pogačar and seven minutes down on 14th placed Esteban Chaves. 

Bakelants questioned how Van der Schueren expects the riders to both protect Meintjes and feature heavily in breakaways.

"The team made the sporting choice – not my choice, to be clear – to ride here for a classification. Then it makes sense that there are fewer riders in a breakaway," he said.

"You can also ask yourself which is the most valuable: going along with a hopeless breakaway for TV minutes like Yoann Offredo used to do, or opting more selectively for breaks that stay ahead until the end. In sporting terms, the latter is certainly a greater achievement." 

Five stages remain in the Tour de France, with two major mountain summit finishes in the Pyrenees mid-week, before a flatter stage on Thursday, the penultimate-day time trial, and the finale in Paris. 

Asked what would turn things around and make it a successful Tour, Van der Schueren said: "That Louis moves up a bit in the standings and Van Poppel finishes within the first three on the Champs-Elysées. That would be nice, right?"