Cyclo-cross world champion Wout van Aert has confirmed he has terminated his contract with the Veranda's Willems Crelan team, stating that he is currently without a team as he travels to the USA for the opening rounds of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Wisconsin and Iowa.
Van Aert's lawyer Walter Van Steenbrugge told Sporza that Van Aert is ready to ride the cyclo-cross season as "an independent rider, as a kind of lonesome cowboy," reiterating that the talented young Belgian is refusing to pay any form of get-out clause or penalty after terminating his contract, hinting van Aert had every right to do so after recent events.
Van Aert has agreed a contract with the LottoNL-Jumbo WorldTour team for the 2020 season, saying he would honour the final year of his contract with Verandas Willems. But has refused to be part of the merger between the Belgian team and the Dutch Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij team in 2019.
Sniper Cycling, the Veranda's Willems Crelan team management company owned by former professional Nick Nuyens, released a press statement in the early hours of Tuesday morning with the news that Van Aert had decided to end his contract.
"Wout van Aert has unilaterally terminated his contract with Sniper Cycling on Monday evening September 17, 2018," it read. "This decision came despite the fact that the team management tried to unblock the situation last week, e.g. by offering him an improved contract for 2019.
Van Aert gave his side of the saga in a blog on the WielerFlits website as he travelled to the USA.
"As you may not have noticed, my - former - team Sniper Cycling sent a press release to the world tonight that the existing agreement with the team has been terminated with immediate effect. From the airport of Schiphol, where I am currently waiting for my flight to Chicago, I can not help but confirm this news," van Aert wrote, preferring not to reveal the specific reasons for the drastic move due to legal reasons.
"There have been facts in the last days that made any cooperation with the team impossible. Unfortunately for you as a reader I cannot tell you anything more at the moment, because of the delicate aspect of the case. All communication will be provided by my counsel, Walter Van Steenbrugge, in the next few days."
Van Steenbrugge suggested events at Sunday's opening cyclo-cross race in Europe in Geraardsbergen were the final straw that broke van Aert's relationship with Sniper Cycling.
Van Aert was leading the race but was forced to run to the pits after breaking a derailleur. He recovered to finish second to Lars van der Haar. It is unclear if this latest equipment issue is the reason why van Aert terminated his contract.
The 24-year-old could be obliged to pay up to 15 months of his agreed salary if he is found to have illegally terminated his contract. His lawyer is hoping van Aert and the team can reach an agreement without going to court.
"Something happened last weekend that was the last drop, there were already a lot of shortcomings on the part of the employer, and that is something that has changed over the weekend, which is why we immediately terminated the employment contract," Van Steenbrugge told Sporza.
"There are now two possibilities: either the employer agrees with the reason we give, or he does not accept it and the case goes to court. I prefer to argue in the court about the exact facts and the background of the case, rather than in the media.
"I hope that the employer accepts the reason and says: there is no basis for cooperation, so Wout can complete the cyclo-cross season in total serenity."
Van Aert admitted he does not know what, if any, sponsors will be on his rainbow jersey when he lines up for the US cyclo-cross races and insisted that he does not have a team, despite an expected flood offers from both cyclo-cross and road race teams after winning three consecutive world titles and a hugely successful road race season.
"How my rainbow jersey will look there is also a mystery to me for the time being," Van Aert suggested in his blog.
"What I can say: I do not have a team right now. Shortly after noon I board the plane to the United States in great ignorance about the practical aspect of the case. Annoying, but it is no different: we will solve that in the coming days."