Tom Boonen has labelled Wout van Aert's complaints about Mathieu van der Poel at Gent-Wevelgem as "unnecessary" and warned his fellow Belgian the same thing will continue to happen if he doesn't "get over it."
After crossing the line together off the back of the nine-rider lead group, Van Aert said he felt targeted by his old cyclo-cross rival, who "preferred to see me lose rather than making a chance to win the race himself."
Boonen, a seven-time Monument winner, gave short shrift to Belgium's current Classics star, saying that being a marked man is a natural consequence of the success he's had in 2020.
"There was no need whatsoever for that swipe from Wout towards Mathieu," Boonen, a three-time Gent-Wevelgem winner, wrote in his column for Het Laatste Nieuws (opens in new tab).
"Just because he is currently a fraction stronger than the rest does not mean they just have to let him go. It's that simple. It is logical that he is being shadowed - that comes with his current status, and certainly if that shadow work comes from the other top favorite. I am convinced that Van der Poel was also racing for the win. If he wanted to win, he could not let Wout escape him - that realization was very strong in him.
"In a final such as the one in Gent-Wevelgem, in those five to 10 seconds of doubting, when you avoid your responsibility and look at others to close the gap, you're riding towards a grandiose defeat. So Van der Poel did what he had to do: don't think - go. And not just with Wout in mind, but the others as well. If you're on the road with champions with rich honors, no gifts will be handed out."
Boonen recognised Van Aert's frustration but said he made a mistake in letting it show, and warned he needed to come to terms with the situation.
"The smartest thing Wout could have done is cover the matter with love. Just recognize that this can be the sporting course of events for a rider with the favorite tag," Boonen wrote.
"Anything is better than ostentatiously looking back in the home straight and letting yourself sag, because it all gets too much for you. If he can't get over that, he'll lose more often in this way, I'm afraid."
Despite finishing at the back of that nine-rider group, Van Aert and Van der Poel showed enough strength to be considered the top favourites for the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. Their rivalry is dominating the pre-race build-up and could well dictate the race itself.
"In the direct run-up to the Tour of Flanders, this discussion - which essentially isn't one - will linger for a while, which of course makes you look forward to Sunday even more," Boonen said.
"I am not yet placing Van der Poel on the same level as Van Aert, but just below it."
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