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Rik Verbrugghe watched with dismay as the Belgian elite men’s national team fell short of victory on home roads at the UCI road world cycling championships in September.
Verbrugghe, who now is the lead sport director at Israel Start-Up Nation, used to run the elite men’s team for the Belgian squad before joining the WorldTour outfit, and could only watch from the sidelines as the wheels slowly came off Belgium’s worlds effort.
“I was the coach there before, so for me, it was a bit difficult to see how Belgium managed it,” Verbrugghe told VeloNews. “I could already see the mistakes early.”
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Verbrugghe is the latest voice to chime on in the aftermath of the elite men’s road worlds.
In what was a shock for an estimated 1 million Belgian fans watching from roadside, Julian Alaphilippe rode away with the stripes, leaving a deflated and out-gunned Belgian team to race for leftovers in his wake.
Recrimination has since been coming from all sides, with the major riders all letting their frustrations and opinions spill onto the front pages.
‘I saw a strange strategy from the team’ — Rik Verbrugghe
Verbrugghe, who led the Belgian national team starting in 2019 before joining the Israeli squad last season, said the team got it wrong right from the start by being over-confident.
“Probably a few weeks before the worlds we are already thinking we are world champions, as if we were world champions before the race was raced. I think this is the first mistake,” Verbrugghe said in an interview at an ISN team camp. “When you announce that you are already world champion before the world championships is raced, then you have a problem.”
Also read: What went wrong? Belgium bows to Alaphilippe
Without naming names, Verbrugghe said the team’s tactics seemed off the mark early in the race.
“Once the race was on, I saw a strange strategy from the team,” he said, pointing out Evenepoel was moving too early to cover breaks instead of waiting until the decisive laps in the final hour of racing. “For me, it was not a good race by the Belgians.
“Of course, you can still win, because we probably had the best rider in the world for this kind of course,” he said, referring to van Aert. “Even without a team on a worlds course like this one — we saw Peter Sagan do it — and that was the situation with Wout van Aert.”
Verbrugghe didn’t want to pile all the blame on van Aert, who could not react when Alaphilippe uncorked his winning move with just under two laps to go. He said the team should have had a plan in place for different scenarios.
“Then you should have a Plan B, and it was not the right one,” he said. “What went wrong? Maybe Wout didn’t have a super day at the worlds. It’s a mix of things; the pressure, the stress, maybe the strategy was not correct, and everything together meant that he was not world champion in Belgium.
“It’s a real shame, because it was the first worlds in Belgium in 20 years,” he concluded. “But it was a great race. Again we showed that Belgium is the country for cycling, and that was good to see, especially after all the things with COVID.”