UCI Road World Championships: Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel have buried the hatchet after last year’s misfire

The Belgian duo say their best chance of winning in Wollongong is to 'work together.'

Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images

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Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel say that they have buried the hatchet after falling out following last year’s UCI Road World Championships.

Last year, the Belgian duo crossed swords in the press after the team failed to score a medal at their home worlds despite being the overwhelming favorites and lighting up the race from early on.

Van Aert was the sole leader of the team in Leuven last year, but both he and Evenepoel will share that role in Wollongong this season.

According to Van Aert, the team has learned a lot from the mishap on home soil and they are on good terms, though other teams may not think so.

“We didn’t just speak about it in the last few days, we have already spoken about it, of course. I think it’s something that we learned from last year and that’s why we are here with two leaders this year and not like we did last year.

“I think it makes us more unexpectable and it’s a big advantage over the other teams. They probably still believe we’re not going well together, but that could be good,” Van Aert said in a press conference at his team hotel just north of Wollongong.

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Asked if they were prepared to work together, Van Aert quipped: “It’s like when you marry in the church and you have to say yes.”

Evenepoel answered a simple “yes” before elaborating further on his answer. For him, it’s about racing for the Belgian flag and not individual ambitions.

“I think there’s no option. It’s like the other guys mentioned, we want to win for Belgium,” Evenepoel said. “I think that should be the big dream, not only for us and the other guys, it’s to win the race as Belgium and Belgians. I know Wout, his levels and his capacities and 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 work well together in the final of a long and hard race.”

In addition to making peace with his teammate, Van Aert has been working hard since last year’s worlds to make sure that he doesn’t find himself outmatched in the final stages of the race. After getting dropped in the finale in Leuven, he adapted his training to help him hone his abilities as a one-day rider.

“I already changed a bit last winter my training towards one-day races and in the spring, I already showed that I was the strongest and I think that was maybe the biggest thing we changed and learned from Leuven,” Van Aert said.

“I think it’s clear what our capacities are. I think I have a better sprint than Remco, normally, and Remco can attack from further out. I don’t think we need to make a choice too early, we just need to take profit from the chance that we will both be in the final.

“I think that not too many countries will have that. That will be really important to keep both options open. I think that maybe people will expect me more to wait for a sprint, but I can also attack. We will see.”

There has been talk about the road race course not being hard enough for some of the purer climbers with Mount Keira the only major ascent of the race.

However, the riders will have to tackle the two climbs on the finishing circuit 12 times and Evenepoel says that is not to be underestimated.

With lots of other teams with a contender for the victory, Belgium cannot afford to get complacent with its two leaders. Like Van Aert, Evenepoel believes that their strength will be in keeping their options open as late as possible into the race.

“When you do a recon, it’s always nice to say that the climb is not hard enough for someone, but we can’t forget that it’s going to be over six hours of racing so doing this lap 12 times is going to be really hard in the end and the fatigue is going to be quite high,” Evenepoel said.

“I think we need to stay together as long as possible and not waste stupid energy like during the race. Maybe it’s true that it’s not the hardest climb for light guys to drop the heavier guys but it’s a world championships, everybody can ride faster than they did the whole year. Also, the course is not straight, it’s left, right, up, and down. It’s not an easy course and I think that in the end the fatigue will decide the result.”

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