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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) isn’t too proud to admit when a rival has a good idea he is happy to use it on them when the time is right.
Having seen Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl boss the Taaienberg at the 2021 E3 Saxo Bank Classic, and rip the peloton to shreds before delivering Kasper Asgreen to victory, he wanted to do the same this year.
If it’s not broken, then why fix it?
The move worked perfectly Friday with van Aert driving a pace so hard that just six others — including two of his teammates — could go with him over the top of the climb on the decisive climb. While some of the distanced riders we able to tag back on later, much of the damage was done.
“We wanted to be all together in the front on the Taaienberg. We saw last year what Quick-Step did there and sometimes it’s better to copy a good tactic you’ve seen before than trying something new that doesn’t make sense,” van Aert said as he tucked into a post-race meal.
The all-in approach from Jumbo-Visma needed a total buy-in from the men in yellow and black. In a team that is brimming with confidence this spring, there were no doubters in the lineup.
“In this race, it’s a really crucial part on the Taaienberg with a lot of narrow roads. We wanted to be there together and really force something but it’s only possible if everyone commits to it 100 percent,” van Aert said. “We were in a perfect position, and I think everyone behind us was fighting to stay in front. I think it was a good tactic and from there we were always more guys in the front group, and we could always play the game how we wanted.”
With a serious number advantage after the Taaienberg, van Aert and his team could force the hand of those that had been able to keep up. Repeated attacks from Tiesj Benoot softened the legs of many before van Aert went clear with Christophe Laporte on the Paterberg.
They rode together all the way to the finish, with van Aert slowing down at one point to ensure Laporte was not distanced.
In an image that will go down in cycling lore, van Aert and Laporte crossed the line arm in arm with the Belgian nudging through in first. It was a pre-planned move from the duo after van Aert had gifted victory in the opening stage of Paris-Nice to his French teammate.
It allowed van Aert to become the first Belgian champion to win E3 Saxo Bank Classic since Rick Van Looy in 1963.
“I had to pace it a little bit to get Christophe over the Kwaremont. It was not the right tactic to go alone from there. We were in a super good situation with two of us,” van Aert said. “Maybe I was recovered a bit better from the attack on the Paterberg already, but it was never my intention to drop him.
“It was Christophe himself who had the idea to give me this victory. I think everyone saw a couple of weeks ago we did the opposite in Paris-Nice, and I really have to thank him for that. We are only fresh teammates and already we understand each other so good.”
Staying humble with Flanders on the horizon
Jumbo-Visma may have had a firm grip on the E3 crown, but each race provides a different challenge and van Aert is not getting ahead of himself just yet with the Tour of Flanders just over a week away. He’s gone into De Ronde as a pre-race favorite every year since he made his debut in 2018 but has only once ended it on the podium.
Fortune can change on a knife-edge in cycling, and though form in E3 is a good harbinger of what’s to come in Flanders, it doesn’t guarantee it.
“We should keep our focus on how we do now. For sure, the worst thing we could do is think things come easily,” he said. “Only one week ago we saw in San Remo that there are a lot of really strong guys and some days everything goes well, and everyone is in the best shape possible, and you get a result like this. You have to keep your feet on the ground.
“It is a different race and it’s even more important to save your energy to save the most you can because it’s such a hard classic. So yeah, there’s plenty of time to discuss how we approach next week but it feels comfortable to have so many strong teammates around me.”