Wout van Aert: Racing needs Mathieu van der Poel

Van Aert puts Paris-Roubaix at the center of spring with intention to peak late for cobblestone classic.

Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

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Wout van Aert has long dreamed of winning Paris-Roubaix, and that’s not changed heading into this spring’s classics.

Another constant in van Aert’s life is his decade-long rivalry with Mathieu van der Poel. He doesn’t want to see that changing either.

Van Aert told Belgian media Friday that things wouldn’t be the same without the injury-addled Dutchman.

“It seems that he is really training… he is still doing some solid rides. I’m happy to see that. I think racing needs Mathieu,” van Aert said.

Van Aert’s archrival is currently on the comeback from the long-lingering back problem that torpedoed his challenge for a fifth ‘cross world title this winter.

There’s no hint at van der Poel making his season debut anytime soon, but a recent return to training means van Aert and van der Poel could still go toe-to-toe this spring.

Van Aert backs his nemesis to be crushing the cobbles sooner than some may think.

“It’s a bit scary, thinking whether he could get back to level,” van Aert said. “I assume he will take his time. I can’t estimate his preparedness or injury very well, but I keep in mind that we will see him in the classics … I definitely think he can be good in the second part of the spring”

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Van Aert’s crystal ball suggests he could be going up against an on-song “MvdP” at this year’s Paris-Roubaix. A calendar reshuffle has pushed back the pavé one week later than usual, handing van der Poel valuable extra training time.

For fit and healthy riders, the Roubaix reschedule has rumbled the long tried-and-tested race plans that trace from “opening weekend” through to the Roubaix velodrome. Sport directors from both Trek-Segafredo and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl told VeloNews there’s been some serious head-scratching as they puzzle how to schedule programs so racers find form at the right moment.

Van Aert said he’s planning a late peak so he’s pumped for his main prizes at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. He will debut his season at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in one week’s time before a stage-race pivot through March.

“Spring is always short, with few chances. The intention is to peak a little later than last year,” he said. “Omloop will be here soon. After Paris-Nice and from Tirreno-Adriatico I hope to be at my best.”

Van Aert will lead a new-look Jumbo-Visma classics crew at next week’s “opening weekend.”

New recruits Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot along with the returning Mike Teunissen could see Jumbo-Visma reshaping race dynamics this spring.

“It feels good,” van Aert said of his bolstered bunch of cobbles-bashers.

“We have worked very hard this winter to be better as a group. We have already had many meetings about the spring and have trained a lot together. The intention is that we will get to the final with more guys. That was different in the past. If you are isolated far from the finish, it’s always harder to race.”

Wout van Aert provisional schedule:

  • Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: February 26
  • Paris-Nice: March 6-13
  • Tirreno-Adriatico: March 19-26
  • E3 Classic: March 25
  • Gent-Wevelgem: March 27
  • Tour of Flanders: April 3
  • Amstel Gold Race: April 10
  • Paris-Roubaix: April 17

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