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Van Aert and Merckx still critical of Evenepoel as Worlds fall-out continues

2021 UCI Road World Championships Flanders - men Elite Road Race - Antwerp - Leuven 268,3 km - 26/09/2021 - Wout Van Aert (Belgium) - Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) - photo Nico Vereecken/PN/BettiniPhoto©2021
Van Aert and Evenepoel on the start line of the World Championship road race (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

The fall-out from the World Championships appears to be ongoing in Belgium, with Wout van Aert and Eddy Merckx both expressing comments critical of Remco Evenepoel in the past couple of days.

Merckx had caused a storm in the build-up to the elite men’s road race 10 days ago when he branded Evenepoel a selfish rider and questioned whether he would commit to the cause of sole leader Van Aert.

Evenepoel appeared to answer those concerns by sacrificing his own chances in the early breakaways, but the questions resurfaced beyond the finish line when Van Aert claimed the tactic hadn’t been part of the team’s pre-race plans. 

On Wednesday, Merckx gave his assessment of Belgium’s performance in an interview with Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Belgium was defeated at home by poor tactics, with Evenepoel attacking from afar for no reason," he said. 

"The team fell apart and at the decisive moment no one was there. A total flop."

The controversy surrounding the Worlds gathered pace a couple of days after the event when Evenepoel claimed on television that he had the legs to become world champion, revealing he’d asked for a chance to ride for himself and was turned down by the national coaches.

Van Aert was clearly upset by the comments and hit back publicly, saying "it's really weird to turn 180 degrees now" and that "it's not wise to throw oil on the fire afterwards".

On Tuesday, Van Aert returned to the issue during an appearance on Sporza’s ‘De Tribune’ podcast, revealing he and Evenepoel had not yet patched things up. 

"He did contact me, but that was quite short. No major steps have been taken to clear it up," he said.

"I think we can race perfectly together, but Remco still has to take steps in terms of communication. Will this stick? Sure, but I think you should always be forgiving, otherwise life will be difficult. 

"First of all, we should have discussed this amongst ourselves - there would have been room for that within the team. I didn't think a TV studio was the place for that. Moreover, I find it a bit strange that Evenepoel says beforehand that he knows the tactics and that he wants to throw himself fully, and then afterwards claims that he does not find it clear and that he wants to drive for himself. I was really blown away when I saw that on television."

Van Aert also reiterated his belief that Evenepoel failed to follow team instructions when they hit the road in Leuven, and that it had a knock-on effect on the rest of the squad.

"It was absolutely not the tactics of the team or the national coach to use Remco like that," he said. "He himself chose to attack so early, while that job was for [Yves] Lampaert or [Victor] Campenaerts. Because Remco was at the front, they were never able to carry out their task.

"They were also supposed to float at the front, but he really pushed on. He has come a long way since then, but if he had done it smarter, he would have gone even further."

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