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Difficult days at DSM: Legal battles and internal conflict as two riders seek early exit

Reports this week indicate Ilan van Wilder is taking legal action to leave team early while Tiesj Benoot is negotiating contract curtailment.

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Team DSM is locked into contractual tussles with two of its leading riders.

Reports this week indicate that Tiesj Benoot is in negotiations with the team to break contract one year ahead of time. A few days after the news broke about Benoot, Wielerflits confirmed that young talent Ilan van Wilder is meeting the team in court in order to cut short a contract due to run through 2022.

Benoot and DSM are said to be in discussions to part ways after an internal fallout. The Belgian puncheur is currently linked to a move to Jumbo-Visma where he could become a part of the squad’s re-bolstered classics crew behind Wout van Aert.

Also read: Report: Benoot to leave DSM

The situation is stickier for van Wilder.

The 21-year-old time trialist has been butting heads with DSM brass for several months, initially over equipment allocations and more recently about a surprise snub from the Vuelta a España start list. While van Wilder wants out, the team is reluctant to let him go. Dutch courts are now being called on to untangle the tensions.

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“We are aware that one of our riders, Ilan van Wilder and his agent has chosen to take legal action to break Ilan’s employment contract with Team DSM. In this way they hope to make a switch to another team possible before the end date of the existing agreement. We are obviously very disappointed with this procedure,” DSM staff told Wielerlifts.

“Instead of taking the right approach, actually asking for a transfer, a negative media campaign has been chosen, discrediting the team and those who work with Ilan on a daily basis, in order to force a premature termination of the agreement.

“Let it be clear that the people in the squad have absolutely fulfilled their responsibilities and obligations to work with Ilan.”

VeloNews reached out to DSM to discuss developments in the team but representatives declined to comment.

Benoot and van Wilder are part of a long list of top talents that have come into conflict with management at DSM’s men’s team in past years.

Superstar riders Marcel Kittel, Warren Barguil, Tom Dumoulin, Michael Matthews, and most recently Marc Hirschi have all exited Team Sunweb/DSM’s men’s squad under dark clouds after rising the ranks with the German squad.

The reasons reported for the fallouts have been vague and varied, although dissatisfaction with the team’s supposedly prescriptive ethos has been a theme.

Also read: Dumoulin’s ambition did not square with team’s egalitarian approach, says DSM

The grass hasn’t always been greener once a rider has left the Sunweb/DSM set-up, however.

Hirschi has faltered at UAE-Team Emirates this year after lighting up the Tour de France and Ardennes classics with Sunweb last summer. Barguil and Matthews have similarly struggled for form since they left the squad in 2018 and 2021, respectively.

Meanwhile, after stagnating in his final years with Ag2r-La Mondiale, Romain Bardet has enjoyed one of his most successful seasons while wearing a DSM jersey this year.

Whether Benoot and van Wilder remain with DSM or not, the squad is set to look a little different in 2022.

American rider Chad Haga and a handful more top worker-bees are leaving DSM this winter, Irish veteran Nicholas Roche is retiring, and longtime coach Marc Reef will also be leaving for Jumbo-Visma.

Giro d’Italia podium-finisher Jai Hindley is heading to Bora-Hansgrohe, while Vuelta a España stage-hunter and KoM winner Michael Storer transfers to Groupama-FDJ. The Aussie pair both stepped up to the WorldTour with Sunweb/DSM and evidently flourished under the team’s commitment to youth development.

On the flipside, John Degenkolb, who won Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, and Gent-Wevelgem while riding for the team in its Giant-Alpecin days, returns for 2022.

“I had a great time with the team previously and we have always remained good friends as I made my journey through the peloton,” Degenkolb said when signing his three-year deal this summer.

Evidently what works for some, doesn’t work for others.