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CASTELNAU-MAGNOAC, France (VN) — If it wasn’t clear that Wout van Aert can do anything after he won a sprint, a time trial and a mountain stage at the 2021 Tour de France, this year’s green jersey reconfirmed the fact Thursday.
The green-suited race-smasher rode on the front through 140km of Pyrénéan valleys and cols, kicked Thibaut Pinot from his wheel, and dispatched Tadej Pogačar to all-but bring overall victory to teammate Jonas Vingegaard.
“We call Wout ‘the green monster,’” team director Grischa Niermann told reporters Thursday night.
“He had a bit less of a day the day before and wasn’t happy with his own performance. Today we wanted him to be in the break, and I think you saw today that he attacked at kilometer zero, and went solo.“
Van Aert has been the thread that stitched Jumbo-Visma’s race together in this year’s Tour.
The 27-year-old played satellite rider on Thursday’s 18th stage to Hautacam on Thursday in a repeat of the antics he’s engaged whenever not hoovering sprint points or making rampaging long-range attacks.
“It all exploded on the second to last climb and I was lucky to make it back. On the last climb I pulled as long as possible,” Jumbo-Visma climber Sepp Kuss told reporters after he delivered Vingegaard up to Van Aert in the close of stage 18.
“I knew we had Wout up ahead and I knew he could help Jonas a lot – and he could. It was perfect teamwork.”
Van Aert went on a mission to right the wrongs of seeing yellow jersey Vingegaard isolated on the first of back-to-back mountain stages Wednesday.
The hulking green skinsuit kicked into the day’s escape Thursday and didn’t pull the handbrake until only the highest reach of the Hautacam.
“We wanted to take time and we succeeded. I am also surprised that it went so smoothly. In the end, I was able to pull myself completely apart for Jonas,” Van Aert said.
Yellow or no?
Speculation regularly swirls around Van Aert and his GC credentials for one and three-week races.
The Belgian bosses time trials and proved Thursday he can climb with the best – on his day.
Van Aert wore the yellow jersey early in this year’s Tour. Keeping the maillot after three full weeks could prove a few stages too far.
“It was crazy … one of the most incredible days in my career. I finish third and that was maybe a good test to know if I can target the maillot jaune one day,” he said Thursday.
“But I managed to do that today whereas I lost twenty minutes yesterday. To do during the whole Tour is another story.”
Van Aert roars toward the three final stages of this Tour in contention for three stage wins.
Two sprint finishes and a long rouleur TT puts Jumbo Visma’s green gangster in the frame for taking his Tour de France win-count from eight to 11 and adding to his seven trips to the stage-winner’s podium in this year’s race.
The “green monster” will be largely let off the leash now he’s done making mayhem in the mountains for Vingegaaard.
“Sometimes he’s a bit overenthusiastic, but eventually he ended up in the break. He was there on the last climb and he made the difference for Jonas to drop Pogačar,” Niermann said. “He’s just a great champion.”
Van Aert already clinched the green jersey with an unassailable haul twice that of closest rival Pogačar. And it turns out he wasn’t so far from the far contrasting white and red uniform for top climber, which Vingegaard snatched from Simon Geschke on stage 18.
“I realize that I could also have the polka dot jersey. Had I known, I would have sprinted at the Aubisque!” he joked.
Green, polka dot …. And one day yellow?
It’s hard to believe and unlikely to happen. But rule nothing out when Wout’s about.