Wout van Aert silences the critics with E3 Saxo Classic stunner: ‘I don’t have to prove anything’

Even admitting he wasn't the strongest Friday makes his win against Van der Poel and Pogačar all the more sweeter: 'It's the victory that counts.'

Photo: DAVID PINTENS/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — “I don’t have to prove anything.”

Wout van Aert said that before the start, and he said it again as he barreled across the line in an emotional victory against the best of the peloton to defend at E3 Saxo Classic.

“That was a response to a question I’ve been asked, I don’t know, maybe 1 billion times,” Van Aert said with a laugh. “It’s the same question in every interview in the last few months. People who know me know these things motivate me, and sometimes I cannot help myself and I just spurt it out like this.”

The question: When are you going to beat Mathieu van der Poel?

Van Aert gave his answer loud and clear Friday in a sublime victory against the kings of the peloton in a win that was even more satisfying than last year’s one-two Jumbo-Visma punch.

“When you win a sprint like this, of course, there are so many emotions going through you,” Van Aert said. “I could finally answer with the legs today.”

Also read: Matteo Jorgenson sets best US result in E3 Saxo Bank debut with fourth

It’s hard to believe that a rider as good and prolific as Van Aert might have critics, but he hears that chatter, especially when he finishes behind longtime rival and nemesis Van der Poel.

After being runner-up at the cyclocross worlds and third at Milan0-San Remo, those whispers were growing into a chorus.

On Friday, Van Aert telegraphed his answer to the world.

And his E3 victory was all the sweeter when he admitted he wasn’t the strongest rider in the leading trio of Van der Poel and two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar.

“Last year, I was more on the top of my game than I was today,” Van Aert said. “Last year, I was attacking and winning the race with Christophe [Laporte], and it was super special to win like that.

“Today, with my current shape, I decided to race more defensively and try to hang on,” he said. “That makes it more beautiful by not being the strongest in the race. It’s the victory that counts.”

Van Aert remains optimistic he’ll be at peak fitness for his primary goals of 2023 at Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

He’s the first to admit he’s been muted so far in 2023, but that’s part of his plan.

It’s the “big ones” that count this spring, and Friday’s win at E3 against Van der Poel and Pogačar was a sweet answer to anyone doubting his resolve.

Van Aert had to fight to hang on, but he was first when it counted. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

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