The wounds from Belgium's showing at their home World Championships a month ago have still not fully healed, with Jasper Stuyven echoing Wout van Aert in warning Remco Evenepoel about his communication skills.
In a long end-of-season interview with Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, the Milan-San Remo champion, who placed fourth in the Worlds road race, revealed that Evenepoel had failed to show up for the team debrief.
Stuyven described "some crying on the bus" in Leuven but explained that team manager Sven Vanthourenhout had arranged a virtual meeting five days after the event to talk things through for the best part of half an hour.
"Everyone was there, except Remco," Stuyven said. "He was aware, but didn't think it was necessary. I think that is a shame, especially because he thought it necessary to say things on TV. That stuck with some of us."
A day after the race, Evenepoel claimed on television that he had the legs to become world champion himself, revealing he’d asked for a chance to ride for himself and was turned down by the national coaches.
Talk of Evenepoel's willingness to sacrifice himself for Van Aert had dominated the build-up after a questionable display at the Olympics and a poor public perception fulled by Eddy Merckx's suggestions of selfishness. The 21-year-old pledged his unwavering support for Van Aert and appeared to be sacrificing himself in early moves, until his teammates came out after the race to reveal that had never been part of team tactics.
Van Aert was baffled by Evenepoel's post-race comments and Stuyven was similarly critical.
"I think that Remco should sometimes be slowed down by his entourage. He still has to learn when he can and cannot say things."
"Also, a super-strong rider – which he certainly is – should realise that some things should remain internal."
As for whether Evenepoel was right to believe he could have become world champion that Sunday in Leuven, Stuvyen said: "I do not think so.
"In the first place, he should have ridden a different race. What he did – ride full in the early break, gesticulate and be omnipresent until the final started – any sub-topper can do. But even if he had spared himself, he would never have ridden away from Alaphilippe."
Stuyven was eventually the one to take over the leadership from Van Aert, going clear in a chase group behind the solo winner Julian Alaphilippe, but missing out in the three-up small sprint for the minor medals.
Stuyven revealed that Van Aert had apologised to him for not telling him sooner that he was not on his best day, but insisted there were no hard feelings.
"A rider who says 'I'm not great' after every bit of pain will never win a race. I fully understand what Wout did at the World Championships," Stuyven said.
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