Wout van Aert plays kingmaker at Gent-Wevelgem: ‘Wout asked me if I wanted to win’
Van Aert blows up race over the Kemmelberg in another spectacle just one week ahead of Tour of Flanders.
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WEVELGEM, Belgium (VN) — The conversation started about 10km from the finish line Sunday after the Jumbo-Visma duo of Wout van Aert and Christophe Laporte blew up Gent-Wevelgem.
Van Aert powered over the second of three passages over the Kemmelberg with such force that only Laporte could follow.
The pair built a huge wedge to the chasing peloton that it was obvious the win was theirs.
The only question was, who would get it?
Van Aert played kingmaker Sunday, and agreed to let the French rider coast across the line first in the Belgian classic.
“Wout asked me if I wanted to win,” Laporte said. “I didn’t know what to answer, because he was really strong, stronger even than me. So this victory is a great gesture from him.”
Riding with unbound confidence, Van Aert could afford to be generous.
Little more than 48 hours after out-foxing Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin Deceuninck) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) to win E3 Saxo Classic, Van Aert turned the 260km Gent-Wevelgem into his personal playground.
The demolition derby came Sunday without the presence of Van Aert’s principal rivals for next week’s Flanders, but it was impressive by any measure.
Van Aert turned on the turbos on the Kemmelberg, and only Laporte could follow with about 50km to go.
The gap quickly opened, and it was obvious there was no bringing him back.
Paying back loyalty
The Frenchman joined Jumbo-Visma last year and made an immediate impact. He became especially close to Van Aert, and was decisive in help him win the green jersey at the Tour de France.
Sunday was payback time for Van Aert, who can afford to be magnanimous after his E3 title defense Friday.
“We drove full throttle until about eight or ten kilometers from the finish,” Van Aert said. “At that time we were pretty sure that the victory was in our hands.
“I won on Friday and I have my sights set on the races to come,” Van Aert said. “Christophe also had a difficult start to the season due to illness. He is such a team player that it was an easy decision.”
The scene of the celebrating Jumbo-Visma duo is becoming a familiar one.
In 2022, Laporte played a key role in the team’s destruction of last year’s Paris-Nice, and won the opening stage as the team went 1-2-3.
Laporte also proved loyal to Van Aert by riding to the line with his captain at E3 Saxo Classic, that time ceding to his Belgian teammate.
That scenario was on their mind as they rolled toward the finish line nearly two minutes ahead of the chasing group led by Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Premier Tech).
“We were talking about that a few days ago. We told each other that something like that would probably never happen again, but a few days later the exact same thing happens,” Van Aert said.
“It’s unbelievable that this works at this high level, but all the hard work comes out here. It is very nice to do that together.”
It’s a bench for two. ✌🏼🤭
(Cc @Milano_Sanremo) 😉 pic.twitter.com/eWoqFZRQ1j
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) March 26, 2023
Sunday’s demonstration comes as Jumbo-Visma won the Volta a Catalunya in Spain with Primož Roglič and the team put Olav Kooij into the front group with eighth.
Laporte celebrated the payback, and admitted it wasn’t easy.
“When we went on the Kemmelberg, it was still more than 50 kilometers,” Laporte said. “We went for it with two and gave everything to the finish line. I really had to give everything in Wout’s wheel.
“With the cold, it was also a special feeling. This is unbelievable. Wout is a great champion.”
Jumbo-Visma will be favorites for victory Sunday at De Ronde. It’s doubtful anyone will be gifting anything then.