Wout van Aert has been ordered to pay Sniper Cycling, his former team which was run by Nick Nuyens, €662,000 in severance after being found guilty of a breach of contract.
In a new twist to the long-running legal battle, the labour court's original decision to exonerate Van Aert was overturned by a court of appeal on Wednesday.
The latest ruling represents something of a middle ground, as Nuyens' lawyers had demanded damages of €1.2 million when Van Aert walked away and joined Jumbo-Visma five months later.
The process might not end there, with Van Aert suggesting he will appeal the decision in a court of cassation.
"The interpretation of the court deviates 180 degrees from the judgment of the labor court," said Van Aert's lawyer, Walter Van Steenbrugge, according to Het Laatste Nieuws.
"It is not nice for us to see that the position of the labor court in Mechelen that was very favorable to us and that was put on paper very clearly, is now completely nullified."
The ill-tempered legal tussle dates back to September 17, 2018, when Van Aert terminated his contract with Sniper Cycling, the organisation that ran the team then known as Veranda's Willems-Crelan. Van Aert, who joined the team in 2017, still had more than a year remaining on his contract but rode as an independent rider in the cyclo-cross campaign before joining Jumbo-Visma from March 2019.
Nuyens, the former Tour of Flanders winner who was in charge of Sniper Cycling, took Van Aert took legal action for what he saw as a breach of contract. In defence, Van Aert claimed there was 'urgent reason' to justify the termination, accusing Nuyens of coercing the coach Niels Albert to sign an incriminating statement about him as relationships deteriorated.
On Wednesday, the court of appeal overturned the original decision of the labour court from November 2019, rejecting Van Aert's defence and establishing that a breach of contract did indeed take place. However, the court also deemed Nuyens' demands for financial compensation - based on loss of sponsorship and inability to progress to ProContinental - were too high.
Van Aert now appears set to appeal this latest appeal ruling. His last recourse is the court of cassation, which would not consider the arguments of the two parties but rather would judge if correct procedures had been followed until now.
"Wout has asked me to investigate the possibilities of going to Cassation," said Van Steenbrugge. "That remedy is still open and I expect that Cassation will have the last word on this."
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