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The Jumbo-Visma rider, and major Belgian hopeful at last week’s world championships road race, has spoken out against Evenepoel’s criticism of team tactics in the event.
In an interview with Sporza’s Extra Time Koers program, Evenepoel said it was a “missed opportunity” for him to take the world title and criticized team management for going all-in with van Aert and Jasper Stuyven.
Evenepoel lit up the early part of the race with multiple attacks, but he would not be in the final split after losing touch before the final lap. Despite being the overwhelming favorites and main instigators in the race, Belgium finished with no medals and Stuyven was the best finisher in fourth with van Aert missing the key selection due to a lack of form on the day.
“It touched me,” van Aert told the media Thursday after a recon of the Paris-Roubaix cobbles. “I expected to hear criticism because we didn’t win but that it came from someone on the team is not smart and only serves to add fuel to the fire. It’s a shame, and I regret it. Remco issued more criticism on TV than in the team meeting.”
Van Aert went further into his criticism of Evenepoel and questioned his race tactics during last Sunday’s road race. The younger rider flew off the front with more than two-thirds of the race, and the hardest parts, still to come.
While it blew up the race, along with some strong work from the French squad, it left van Aert and Stuyven on their own in the final forays of action.
“I did not understand why Remco attacked 180 kilometers from the finish when he had to be at my side with Jasper Stuyven in the final,” van Aert said. “We actually had to ride defensively at this point but the race took place without an earpiece and communication between us was not easy, mainly because of the ambient noise from the fans.
“We had a strong team at the world championships. We did a good job and respected the tactics. Everyone in the selection, and also Remco, was okay with the tactic, so it’s weird to turn around like that. Contrary to what he says, I think the tactics were very clear.”
A ‘missed opportunity’
In the build-up to the world championships, Evenepoel had declared his dedication to the Belgian team and its main man van Aert. Indeed, he described van Aert as the team’s “one ultimate leader” in a press conference held on the Thursday ahead of the road race.
However, he told Extra Time Koers that he had a difficult night’s sleep Friday as he was unsure of the team’s tactic.
“The best rider in the race behind Alaphilippe? It’s hard to say, but I could have become world champion,” Evenepoel said. “We had a team meeting on Friday afternoon. I found that the instructions that they gave were unclear, after which I spent a night filled with doubts.
“On Saturday, I went to see [national coaches] Sven Vanthourenhout and Serge Pauwels. After the reconnaissance, I had the feeling that on this course I could have opportunities to escape and that there were scenarios in which I could win.
“After the Smeysberg [the first climb on the Flandrien circuit -ed], I again went to ask Sven and Serge if I could get my chance, and but the response was again no. At that point, it was clear that the leaders were Wout and Jasper. Then I got on with my job without complaining, as I would at Deceuninck-Quick-Step. But I said what I thought to Sven Vanthourenhout; it was a missed opportunity to go seek the world title.”