As soon as Wout van Aert was asked about his expectations for the UCI Road World Championships road race on Sunday, he was quick to talk about his strong team and strong co-leader Remco Evenepoel. There was no doubting at this dual press conference, with views from the window of the headland location spreading right down the coast, that this was an appearance that was meant to signal calm waters.
Last year at a home World Championships in Flanders, those waters were decidedly stormy after team leader Van Aert struggled on the day and Evenepoel jumped in an early attack, criticised the Belgian team tactics, upset Van Aert, and skipped a debrief meant to clear the air.
This year the dynamic has changed with Evenepoel, the Vuelta a España winner, named as a co-leader with Van Aert and a public thawing of their frosty relationship.
"We didn't only speak about it in the last couple of days," said Van Aert in Australia on Thursday evening. "We spoke about it already, of course. It's just something we learned last year.
"That's also why we're here with two leaders and not how we did it last year because I think it makes us more unpredictable and that's a big advantage to our team. Probably they still believe we're not going all together, then that can also be pretty good."
When asked if he agreed, Evenepoel first said: "I think everything has been blown up for nothing" but then when asked if he could confirm he would work together with Van Aert, Evenepoel was quick to deliver a firm "yes".
It was enough to cause Van Aert to joke "It's like when you marry in a church and you have to say yes".
And while they may have been laughing there is, of course, nothing less serious than wearing the responsibility of chasing a world title for such a cycling focussed nation of Belgium.
"We want to win for Belgium," said Evenepoel. "I think that should be the big view of everybody, not only from us but also from the other guys, is to win the race as the country Belgium and as Belgians. I know Wout – his level, his capacities – he knows mine, so I think we do well in a bit of the same races, like Liège for example, and some other races as well so I think we can perfectly work together in the final of a long and hard race."
Van Aert added: "And also we know our chances are bigger if we ride well together so it would be really dumb to not do it."
As to how they ride together, the message was clear, there was no intention to waste energy early as the aim is to make the most of their dual strength in the final stages of the 266.9km course.
Van Aert said, "I think it's clear what our capacities are. I have a better sprint than Evenepoel," at which point Evenepoel objected jokingly and Van Aert added "normally".
"Remco can attack from further out," continued Van Aert. "On the other hand, I also believe we don't need to make a choice too early. We just need to take advantage of the chance that we will both be there in the final. I don't think that many countries will have that. That will be really important to keep all the options open. I think everyone expects me to maybe wait for a sprint but I can also attack."
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Simone joined the team as Production Editor based in Australia at the start of the 2021 season, having previously worked as Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and as a correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.