Did Wout van Aert do the right thing to ‘gift’ Gent-Wevelgem to Christophe Laporte?

The Belgian could play kingmaker in Sunday's soggy showdown Gent-Wevelgem, but did he make the right call? Our editors debate the question.

Photo: Gruber Images/VeloNews

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GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem quickly devolved into a one-team wrecking ball.

Wout van Aert powered over the second of three passages over the feared Kemmelberg, and only rider — his Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte — could even stay close.

With about 50km to go in horrid racing conditions, the Belgian and the Frenchman dropped everyone and powered toward the finish line uncontested.

Inevitably the question was raised of how to split the spoils.

Van Aert was clearly the strongest rider in the race, yet loyal lieutenant and teammate Laporte deserved his moment of glory. What to do?

The pair did it last year at E3 Saxo Classic when they finished 1-2, and neither ever expected lightning to strike twice. Yet there they were, 10km from the wet and soggy finish line waiting in Wevelgem.

Who was going to win?

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According to both riders, they hashed it out among themselves. There were no team orders, no phone calls from a rich team owner offering their preferences. Van Aert offered up the win, and Laporte gleefully took it.

Two champions and only one winner. Van Aert eased up to allow Laporte to trail across the finish line together in genuine celebration.

But was it the right call?

Should have Van Aert taken the win that he earned on the road? Or did Laporte, a rider who ceded to Van Aert in so many other situations, deserved a bit of payback?

Our editorial team debates both sides of the issue:

Fred Dreier, Outside Magazine: Wout’s gift is Laporte insurance

Riders on the storm: No one came close to matching them Sunday.

I fully support Wout’s decision to give Laporte the win and here’s why: that gift may keep Laporte on Jumbo-Visma once the other teams start offering him a jumbo salary for 2024.

Earlier this week, Jumbo rider Nathan Van Hooydonck said that “Jumbo Visma is not an NBA All-Star Team.” He’s wrong.

Jumbo has amassed an all-star team of cycling talent, and the key to its success is that everyone sacrifices their own ambitions for the win. Yep, typical sports stuff. The group working together for a common goal—the same thing that brings success in the NFL, Premiere League, and your cousin’s beer league softball tournaments.

Here’s the thing: sports, pop culture, and even high school drama departments have shown us that this dynamic cannot last forever. At some point, at least one individual on the team is going to want more money or more glory. To quote NBA coaching great Pat Riley, the enemy of any great team is something called “The Disease of Me.”

That’s when a player feels that he isn’t being appreciated or getting his share of the success. Think Kevin Durant, George Harrison, Cal Naughton Jr.

OK—back to Jumbo-Visma. Right now Wout wins a lot. Roglič wins a lot. Jumbo just signed Dylan van Baarle, who wants to win a lot.

Christophe Laporte is really strong, but he does not win a lot. Instead, he sacrifices his ambitions in most races, despite being second banana in case something goes wrong. At some point, you gotta figure Laporte is going to wonder if he could lead a squad of his own and battle Wout, Mathieu van der Poel, and the sport’s other classics strongmen. While Jumbo Visma has big coffers, Laporte could be lured away at the end of the season by a similarly large salary plus the shot at team leadership (and wins).

Giving him Gent-Wevelgem is Wout’s way of saying, Hey Christophe, you are valued my man—don’t leave the team! I’m sure that Wout, like team management, recognizes how strong he is, and how formidable a foe he’d be on Groupama-FDJ or on Soudal-QuickStep. Sure, having team leadership would be cool, but Laporte also knows that Jumbo-Visma will take care of his desire for results, even though he spends most of his time with his nose in the wind.

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Andrew Hood, VeloNews: Big champions always take the win

The Jumbo-Visma pair finished arm-in-arm in Wevelgem on Sunday. (Photo: Gruber Images/VeloNews)

I get it, Van Aert is a nice guy, and he wants to reward the teammate and friend who helped win the green jersey in the Tour de France last year, who helped him win E3 Saxo Classic last year, and who will try to help him win Tour of Flanders on Sunday.

I get it. What goes around, comes around.

Winning bike races takes a village. Jumbo-Visma is the new Quick-Step on the classics, and everyone deserves a chance to share the spoils.

I get it, but … Van Aert should have taken the win Sunday.

Why? First off, he was the strongest, and the law of the jungle otherwise known as WorldTour dictates the strongest always wins.

Yes, Jumbo-Visma was the strongest team, and Laporte deserves the win just as much as anyone. But Van Aert was clearly the strongest in the race.

Second, Van Aert is wrong in assuming that more wins will be coming down the road. Cycling history is full of riders who hesitated, missed out, or fettered away the moment thinking that more good times were coming around the next corner.

Cycling doesn’t work that way. Every day could be the last day a rider has a chance to win. Van Aert may never have another opportunity to win Gent-Wevelgem.

Also, Laporte is paid to work to let Van Aert win, plain and simple. The Frenchman is the walking definition of a super-domestique. He is paid millions (or close to it) to help Van Aert — who is paid millions more — win. He would not have felt cheated or stung if Van Aert went first.

And finally, big champions always take the win. Laporte can win any other race on the season if it comes down to charity, friendship, and allegiance. There are plenty of French Cup races the team can work for Laporte.

Van Aert was incredibly giving Sunday. That’s also the mark of a true champion. I get it.

Gent-Wevelgem is in a monument-level race in everything but name. Van Aert attacked to destroy the field. He was the strongest, he was the star, and he dictated the action.

The race deserved to see Van Aert win.

An American in France

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