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Like the disaster day that saw the Belgian team implode in front of thousands of fans in Leuven, Evenepoel escaped into an unlikely early move Sunday.
But unlike in 2021, the pocket rocket long-range specialist rode everyone off his wheel and dived straight into the rainbow jersey in a move that was straight out of the team bus briefing.
Co-captain Van Aert missed the medals with a fourth-place finish but was more than consoled by a redemptive day for his blue-clad crew.
“Of course, I am very happy with this title,” Van Aert said. “It was a fantastic race. You can determine tactics in advance, but if it also works out that way, awesome. When Remco moved with that group, I knew it was dangerous, but it was also a good situation for the team.”
🌈#Wollongong2022, M RR (266.9 km)
— ammattipyöräily (@ammattipyoraily) September 25, 2022
‘It will be a big party tonight’
All eyes were on Van Aert and Evenepoel this weekend. Last year, the two dissolved into dispute and accusation when Evenepoel rode clear in the chaotic streets of Flanders and didn’t look back when the team tactic was to ride for Van Aert as the sole leader.
The Belgian beef simmered some time before the two towed the party line, and insisted they would race Sunday with two clear leaders.
But with Evenepoel hot off Vuelta a España victory and Van Aert the terminator of the Tour de France, would the two Belgian ballers ride for national pride or personal ambition?
“I think how we raced today really like a team. Like I said before, we wanted to become a world champion as a team, it didn’t matter how,” Evenepoel said.
“It was Wout’s chance or my chance, it was my chance to go from early and Wout was to follow along and sprint. I guess the early attack made it today. But I just think we deserve it. We really deserve it.”
As one of the leading nations in pro cycling, it seemed off-key that Belgium hadn’t worn elite rainbow bands for 10 years.
Philippe Gilbert was last into rainbows when he won the Valkenburg race in 2012, and home fans expected big things from a Van Aert-Evenepoel twin assault.
Van Aert buried any personal pride at missing his own chance Sunday, and was among the first to congratulate Evenepoel at the finish.
“It was our tactic that Remco would join attacks early with Quinten [Hermans] and when they did, it was a perfect situation also for me,” Van Aert said.
“It took really long before countries realized it was dangerous when normally you should expect the chase would be full-on. But instead, it was a comfortable situation. It was our tactic, and when you see how Remco finished it with a long solo, he was just the strongest.”
Evenepoel profited from the confusion and chaos of championship racing Sunday. Top favorites like Julian Alaphilippe, Michael Matthews and Tadej Pogačar missed the decisive split that let Evenepoel off the leash and only caught back in time to sprint for consolation places.
Van Aert didn’t fully realize the situation on the road, and missed out on scoring a Belgian one-three when he was beaten to the line by Matthews and Christophe Laporte.
But for him, the race was already won.
“We knew going into the last lap Evenepoel was alone, but without radio it’s really hard to have proper information and it’s already a strange race with nations, and without radio it makes it even more complicated,” Van Aert said.
“That’s why I didn’t sprint for podium places. That’s a bit disappointing but I cannot complain. We won the race and I’m super happy with that.”
The sound of beers in the Belgian team bus will ripple across the world to the beerhalls of their bike-mad homeland Sunday.
“It will be a big party tonight,” Evenepoel said. “I’m not going to see my bed I guess.”