Wout Van Aert breaks the trend

03 April 2023

Wout Van Aert breaks the trend

Last week, leader Wout Van Aert left the victory in the classic from Ghent to Wevelgem, after a marathon race of more than 50 km together, to his teammate Christophe Laporte. The cycling establishment reacted afterwards with disbelief, bewilderment and even undisguised criticism. You don't give away a win, that's what it sounded like. For me, on the other hand, it was an ultimate gesture of generosity, team spirit and why not: friendship. Even a trend break, also relevant outside cycling. We are Wout.

In team sports, players win together, or lose together. Victories are collective, defeats are as much. Cycling is an outsider in that respect. Although all riders wear the colors of a team, in practice it turns out to be a very individualistic sport, where only one winner can be on the podium. Here the adagio applies: you don't win silver, you lose gold. It has produced heroic achievements in the distant and near past, often on the edge of the superhuman, often stimulated by stimulants and doping. You love cycling, or you hate the sport. There is rarely a middle ground.

This was also evident from the very negative reactions of the cycling establishment to Wout Van Aert's gesture, immediately after arrival. In many comments from former cyclists, supervisors and even organizers, disappointment, misunderstanding and even undisguised criticism resounded. Many would never have done it themselves, like Johan Musseeuw for example. A victory in cycling is never given away. It looked like a red line that Van Aert had crossed unsolicited. Here and there, Van Aert's decision to hand over the victory was even equated with unsportsmanlike conduct. The winner takes it all, right?

A few praised Van Aert for so much generosity and team spirit. For former champion Fabian Cancellara, Van Aert showed humanity. It only makes him bigger as a champion, he told Het Laatste Nieuws. "For me, being a champion isn't just about winning races. It's also the way you win, your personality, the human side. All of these things make you a champion. And if you want to lift someone else up, you're extra special."

According to the Italian sports newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, the generous gesture of the Belgian champion even contains a real trend break that symbolizes modern cycling. "The purists will turn up their noses," the commentary read, "because an unwritten law in cycling dictates that the strongest must win."

Let that be precisely what Van Aert does not care about. "I don't have to do anything," he had said earlier this season. "This feels like a victory for both of us," Van Aert said, even though Laporte crossed the finish line a few centimers faster. It was also a gesture of thanks for the efforts his teammate had made in the Tour last year to help Van Aert win the green jersey.

Van Aert's gesture also symbolizes a world far beyond cycling in which strong individuals and great personalities can transcend and surpass themselves by working together for a common goal. It is a world in which the law of the strongest no longer prevails, but in which we move forward together, win the race together, and leave no one behind. It is a bright spot in a social climate of increasing hardening and acidification. From us to them. Even if we have to defy the wrath and banter of some, as happened to Van Aert last week. Shared joy for a victory tastes twice as good.