Van Aert: I haven't changed my mind on Van der Poel incident

Cyclingnews
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Wout Van Aert is holding firm on his comments about Mathieu van der Poel's ride at Gent-Wevelgem, insisting the same situation won't repeat itself at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.

Interviewed in Wevelgem after placing eighth, just ahead of Van der Poel, the Jumbo-Visma rider said he was targeted by his old cyclo-cross rival, who he felt "preferred to see me lose rather than making a chance to win the race himself".

The comments sparked a media storm in Belgium, with a number of former riders taking issue with Van Aert's comments, including seven-time Monument winner Tom Boonen, who felt there was "no need whatsoever" to air his grievances like that.

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The sense of rivalry between the pair is dominating the build-up to Sunday's Tour of Flanders, and the incident was the major topic of conversation when Van Aert spoke to Belgian newspapers Het Nieuwsblad and Het Laatste Nieuws mid-week.

"I was surprised there was so much ado the next day. On the other hand, it has all been whipped up. It certainly wasn't a shouting match. I heard terms that were a bit exaggerated compared to what it really was," he said.

"I just told you how I felt about that race. I don't think I offended Mathieu. I think I have the right to say that. After 'cross races I have been more angry than I was last Sunday. I think we both expressed our opinions, that we were both disappointed. The matter is finished for me."

Asked if he'd phrase things differently given a second chance, Van Aert added: "I probably would have said it a bit more calmly, or maybe kept it to myself. But that was the feeling I had then. It's not that I've changed my mind now. I think that in the final kilometer Mathieu really showed that the victory was exactly less important to him. I cannot get rid of this impression."

With the matter done and dusted in Van Aert's eyes, thoughts now turn to the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, where he and Van der Poel line up as the top favourites.

In giving his assessment on the Gent-Wevelgem complaints, Boonen warned that Van Aert needs to "get over it", or else risk allowing himself to be marked out of many more races in the future. Van Aert insisted that wouldn't be the case at Flanders.

"I don't think so. The race is more difficult. I think now that this has happened after Gent-Wevelgem, there is less chance that this will happen again," he said.

"For my part, I have learned lessons from it: I do not intend to be caught out a second time."