When Veranda's Willems-Crelan team manager Nick Nuyens announced on Thursday that his team had merged with the Dutch Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij squad for 2019, it appeared to signal the end of a difficult period for the Belgian team, home of three-time cyclo-cross world champion, and rising Belgian road star, Wout van Aert.
But #gapyear was the best English translation of the 23-year-old's cheeky hashtag on a Twitter post a couple of days ago when everything was still up in the air, with Van Aert bemoaning the lack of communication from his team with regards to where he was supposed to be riding in 2019.
From a proposed, but ultimately unsuccessful, merger with Aqua Blue Sport at the start of August to a done-and-dusted deal to merge with Roompot this week, everything now appeared to be set for the new year for Nuyens and Van Aert.
But Van Aert would beg to differ, and in a long interview with Belgium's Het Laatste Nieuws on Friday, the Belgian gave his forthright views on the situation, with the overarching message that he was not happy about being told that he'd be riding for the new Roompot-Crelan squad next year.
"Saying that I was going to take a sabbatical year was perhaps a little far-fetched," said Van Aert, "but it's not been easy these past couple of weeks."
The Belgian's wife, Sarah, then jumped on the phone to tell Het Laatste Nieuws' journalist that her husband was perhaps underplaying how he really felt.
"'Not easy'?" she repeated. "He's a wreck. They've mentally cracked him. But Wout's too tough to admit that."
Taking up the baton again, Van Aert explained that his relationship with Veranda's Willems-Crelan manager Nuyens – who's set to manage the new Roompot-Crelan team alongside business partner Chris Compagnie and Roompot manager Michale Zijlaard – was "below freezing".
In other words, the shiny veneer of a new team headed by Belgian cycling's new poster boy was, in fact, cracked.
"Look at who's still in the team from when I joined a year-and-a-half ago," said Van Aert. "My close teammate Wesley Theunis has left, and so has Jan Verstraeten. Tim Merlier, who's a top racer and my teammate in cyclo-cross, wasn't offered a contract extension.
"And Niels Albert left this week," Van Aert pointed out, referring to the two-time cyclo-cross world champion who was a sports director on the team, although Albert explained in Het Laatste Nieuws on Wednesday that he had left the team to spend more time with his young family, and that he was available to help Van Aert if he needed him.
"Our main sponsor, Veranda's Willems, didn't want to stay on board, either, which is surely no coincidence," Van Aert added. "The complete structure of the team that started so promisingly at the beginning of 2017 is gone."
He is, clearly, upset with the situation, which had sounded so much like a positive outcome on Thursday, and that Van Aert had dodged a bullet by his current team not merging with Aqua Blue, who will cease to exist after this season. But there has been no communication with the riders all along, said Van Aert.
"We had to read in the press a few weeks ago that we were going to merge with Aqua Blue Sport," he said. "No one knew about that. And then today [Thursday] there was the press release saying that we'd merged with the Roompot team. I was only told about that about five minutes before the official communiqué was sent out."
He explained that another member of the Veranda's Willems-Crelan team management, former pro Michiel Elijzen, did at least receive a phone call.
"They said to him, 'Good news – we have a deal,'" explained Van Aert. "But there was a downside to it: there's no place for Michiel in the new team. Enough is enough. It's hard to believe that an employee can be treated like this in the 21st century."
Now, Van Aert implied, he'll look at what he can do to change his current situation, having already agreed on a contract with Dutch WorldTour outfit LottoNL-Jumbo for 2020.
"Almost everyone in the [Veranda's Willems-Crelan] team has left, but I couldn't go because I'm still under contract," Van Aert said. "To make it clear, I have nothing against Roompot, which is a very solid team. But I want to be able to plan my own career, and not have it controlled by others."
He explained that he'd also heard that the new merged team was going to be built around the Dutch faction from Roompot, which meant that it would be like joining a new team for him.
"And then 12 months later, I'll have to go through it all again with another new team. Enough's enough," he repeated.
Van Aert added that he had originally intended to respect his contract, which runs with his team's parent company, Sniper Cycling, owned by Nick Nuyens, until the end of 2019.
"But I've change my mind," Van Aert said. "In a short telephone conversation I've had with Nuyens' co-partner, Chris Compagnie, I expressed my concerns and told him that I wanted out. I hope that as adults we can sit around the table to find a solution."
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