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After a relatively slow start out of the gate in 2021, at least by van Aert’s standards, the Belgian superstar is firing at all cylinders after Tirreno-Adriatico, where he won two stage victories and hit second overall. Only a superb Tadej Pogačar could keep van Aert off the highest step on the winner’s podium.
Van Aert now slips into monument mode and the most important part of his spring calendar. From here to Paris-Roubaix, van Aert has the stated goal of winning every race he starts.
“Every race counts when Wout is starting. We go to every race with the intention of winning,” Jumbo-Visma sport director Arthur van Dongen told VeloNews. “The monuments are a big team goal, and Flanders and Roubaix are the big goals right now.”
Van Aert is making room in his trophy case to fill out with what he hopes is a bigger bounty in 2021. Last year, he barnstormed out of the gate to win Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo.
On Saturday, he’ll be a five-star favorite to become the first repeat winner at “La Classicissima” since Erik Zabel in 2000-01.
“Wout is really hungry to win, to show himself, and battle with the other guys,” van Dongen said in a telephone interview.
“We don’t hold him back,” he said. “He knows what exactly to do, what his feeling is, and what he can do. He is very balanced, very impressed.”
‘It’s not just about beating Mathieu van der Poel’
Van Aert has emerged as a one-man wrecking crew, capable of winning sprints, time trials, one-day classics, smash mountains, and he’s even stretching his wings into the GC.
Now in his third season in the WorldTour, van Aert is also emerging as a team leader inside the team bus as well.
“He learning to be a leader,” van Dongen said. “He is funny as well. In the meetings, he gives a lot of input. He knows a lot about tactics, and he’s very involved in the whole process of being a professional.”
Two stage victories, second place in GC and the points jersey. Chapeau @WoutvanAert 👏🏼
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) March 16, 2021
Of course, with any conversation about van Aert it’s hard not to mention the name of Mathieu van der Poel. The pair share mutual respect and similar skillsets, and they both know that to win any major race, they usually have to beat each other.
The pair’s growing rivalry hit an apogee in last year’s rescheduled Tour of Flanders. The two were alone off the front, with van der Poel pipping van Aert at the line in an excruciating sprint.
Van Dongen cautioned about only focusing on van der Poel, and said van Aert is not taking his cues off one singular rider.
“It’s not just about beating van der Poel, and Wout knows that,” van Dongen said. “They will always battle each other, because they are similar riders and they share this history. There is also Alaphilippe and other riders. It won’t be Wout versus Mathieu in every race.
“Wout is not looking to the other guys. He is focused on his own condition and he decides the tactics and makes his own race,” he said. “He knows he doesn’t only have to beat van der Poel. He wants to win against everyone.”
The first real big test comes Saturday on the Via Roma. And then after that, it’s quick success of E3 Saxo Bank Classic, Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders, and Roubaix.
Like van Dongen said, van Aert wants to win them all during his career. And if happens this season, all the better.