Will the rivalry between Van Aert and Evenepoel ruin Belgium’s chances again?

This is the inconvenience of going to distant lands to compete in the world cycling championships. You find yourself faced with species unknown to the battalion who come to tickle your ears in full effort. Here, a seagull heading for Bauke Mollema in the middle of a time trial. There, an Australian magpie who pursues Remco Evenepoel in training: “Suddenly, a bird of very respectable size approached me and kept following me, described the recent winner of the Vuelta. It’s terrifying. It scares me. »

It will not be the only bellicose species that the Belgian will come up against on Sunday, during the Worlds road race: Pogacar, Alaphilippe, Madouas, Van der Poel, Van Baarle… and especially his compatriot Van Aert. And, from our position of good franchouillard, baguette in hand, beret on the head and slippers on the foot, we expect a cockfight between the two Belgians.

“Remco said more on TV than on the bus”

A little flashback: last year, at home, on the Leuven circuit, when the planets were aligned for Van Aert to win the rainbow jersey, Evenepoel, a simple teammate, warmed up by the Flanders public, decides to carry out devastating attacks 180 and 130 km from the finish, washing away everyone, but especially Van Aert. “I had the feeling that, on this course, I could have opportunities to escape and that there were scenarios in which I could win, explained the young rider afterwards. I could have become world champion. »

That’s what youth is: pimples still on the face, mom and dad doing the laundry on Sundays, granny giving a little 5 euro note in secret, and thinking about becoming world champion. Suffice to say that it didn’t make Van Aert laugh too much: “No one questioned the strategy before and it’s very easy to do so afterwards. Remco said more on TV than on the bus. We will have to discuss to iron out the problems. We will still have to live together in the national team. »

“Remco can start from afar and that can cause problems for Wout”

Not far from being a diviner, friend Wout. Because the two men are there, this year, for these Worlds in Australia. And, of course, we still expect it to explode. In the blue corner of the ring, Remco “Le Petit Cannibal” Evenepoel, 22 years old, 1.71 meters, 61 kg. Victories in Liège, San Sebastian, and especially the Vuelta in 2022. In the red corner, Wout “The Beast of Herentals” Van Aert, 28 years old, 1.90 meters, 78 kg. Victory on the Het Nieuwsblad, two stages of the Dauphiné, three stages and the green jersey of the Tour in 2022.

Given the two phenomena, we have a doubt to see Wout Van Aert sacrifice himself in the last kilometers for his young compatriot. And vice versa. We can already imagine, on this demanding Wollongong circuit, where the repetition of two good raids will make the difference, seeing Remco Evenepoel attacking from afar, very far, under the astonished eyes of the master key (nothing to do with the singer) of the Jumbo Visma. A scenario also envisaged by Jens Debuscherre, the runner of the B & B Hotels, joined by 20 minutes :

Although I think everything will be done for Wout during the race, I think Remco can do something. So they said yes, everything was settled, that they had spoken after the Worlds, but I don’t know if that’s really the case. Maybe there’s not too much trust between the two. Remco is really going strong. If he’s in the same form, he can go far, race and that can be a problem for Wout. If that happens, I don’t think Wout will be happy. They are two champions, and they only want to win. »

Two leaders in Australia

Except that, this year, promised, “the team is really built around the two, Van Aert and Evenepoel, assures us the former Belgian coach Carlo Bomans. We have two leaders. I think the coach will do everything to ensure that the two are on an equal footing. “For the moment, it is the peace of the brave, adds Sébastien Close, Belgian journalist at the daily The evening, present in Australia. We feel that there is consensus and that the national coach kept repeating that the two riders were compatible, that they were both leaders. »

We know it, this strategy of the ostrich. Some have tried. So, how can two big riders cohabit in the same team for the common good of a country? “The priority will be cohesion, if there is none, they will have problems, notes Axel Merckx, son of, now general manager of the Axeon Hagens Berman team. They will have to get along and agree on a race tactic to have in order to have a Belgian world champion. Let there be honesty with each other. »

Take the example of Valkenburg, in 2012

This is not the first time that Belgium will find themselves with several leaders at the start of a World Cup. If it hasn’t always worked, our dear neighbors will always be able to remember the sweet memory of Valkenburg, in 2012, where Philippe Gilbert won the Grail, while Tom Boonen and Greg Van Avermaet were in the team. Carlo Bomans, who was the Belgian manager at the time, recalls:

Before the race, a rider like Boonen or Van Avermaet knew what he had to do and what I expected of him depending on how the race was going. We had talked about it before the race and, during, we didn’t need to explain ourselves, everything was clear. Tom put himself at the service of Philippe, and he became world champion. »

So, what is the dream scenario for the selection of the flat country? “Everything is done so that the two collaborate as well as possible and that Belgium uses the two weapons it has according to the tactics of the race, concludes Sébastien Close. It seems obvious to me that, if there is a group finish, it will be for Van Aert, and that Evenepoel’s role will be to blow everything up two or three laps from the end. But I don’t think we can see Remco leaving as early in the race as last year. No, he will just wait the last 70 kilometers and ride for his Quick Step teammate Julian Alaphilippe. From Monday, the currency of Belgium will even be changed. “Eendracht maakt macht” or “Unity is strength”, they said.

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