A year on from Remco Evenepoel’s triumph in Wollongong, Belgium were forced to make do with a silver medal at the UCI Road World Championships in Glasgow as Wout van Aert soloed to second place behind Mathieu van der Poel.
More often than not, the Belgians come to the elite men’s road race with the strongest squad in the peloton and more options than other nations, but despite that Evenepoel’s win is their sole rainbow jersey of the past 11 races.
Despite that, there was finger-pointing and no blame to go around on Sunday evening, as there had been on home ground in Leuven two years ago.
“The best one won, quite clearly,” Belgium national coach Sven Vanthourenhout told Sporza after the race. “The level of the race was extremely high, and the podium was phenomenal. If you come second and lose to the best, you have to be content as a team.”
The team saw their man Wout van Aert in the medals, though fellow leadership candidates – defending champion Evenepoel and Tour de France green jersey Jasper Philipsen – had a less satisfying day in the saddle.
Evenepoel, was off the front and the back at various points in the race before fading to 25 th at 10:10 down, while Philipsen was a DNF after dropping at just over 100km to go of the 271km race.
Still, along with Van Aert, Belgium had three in the top 10 across the line with Jasper Stuyven in sixth and Tiesj Benoot in ninth at 3:48 down on Van der Poel.
“I think we were riding a very good race, but one man stood out. You can be disappointed, but you also just have to accept that this was the highest possible result,” Stuyven said after the race. “This result came because we were in that group, and we were going well. So why not try to get a good result?”
Both Vanthourenhout and Stuyven noted that Evenepoel found himself out of position on several occasions, costing valuable energy. The 23-year-old, who won the Clásica San Sebástian last week, eventually dropped away at 35km to go, after the winning split happened up front.
“Remco was maybe too far back when coming onto the circuit,” Stuyven said. “I think then it did take a lot of effort for him to come back. When he got back to the front, it suddenly started to rain. After that he might lack some confidence to really go through those corners at speed.
“But he was there and he tried a few times. Everyone knew that you shouldn’t give him 10 seconds, because then he will stay away – you could see there was a reaction when he went.”
For Tiesj Benoot, another key…