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He can win monuments, crush time trials and detonate the Tour de France on steep mountain passes. Oh, and he’s pretty good at cyclocross, too.
And now Wout van Aert wants to go one step further and target week-long stage races. Can he? Should he?
Whatever we think, he’s going to give it a go.
“I would like to shine in Tirreno-Adriatico, the Critérium du Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse,” Van Aert told Sport-Voetbal Magazine this week. “That is possible in the short term, especially in stage races with a time trial, such as Tirreno-Adriatico. I’d like to go for a GC result there in 2021, and later in the hilly classics such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Il Lombardia.”
So, the 2021 season for Wout could look something like: cyclocross – spring classics – one-week races – Tour de France – Olympic Games. That’s one heck of a schedule.
The 26-year-old has shown he can do anything he sets his mind to, with his new-found climbing talents at the Tour this summer surprising those in the peloton just as much as us on the couch. In the weeks before, he’d won an uphill sprint in the Dauphiné and the Belgian national TT. But riding in a support role for the likes of Primož Roglič and Steven Kruijswijk is a different beast to launching your own GC challenge, where the pressure is on to perform every day.
Dipping a toe into one-week racing could mark a new pathway for Van Aert. He’s long dominated the ‘cross scene alongside Mathieu van der Poel, and his classics rivalry with the Dutchman and French archrival Julian Alaphilippe has the legs to go some years yet (we hope).
Of the major one-weekers Wout highlighted in the interview this week, Tirreno is for sure his best bet – Tour de Suisse may be too mountainous, and he could be on domestique duty at the Dauphiné. Tirreno typically includes a handful of classics-style stages packed with bergs gruesome enough to make Belgians jealous and regularly features an opening or closing-stage time trial. Those things are Van Aert’s bread-and-butter, and he’s got good odds of pulling it off.
But how far can he stretch the elastic? Can he be at his best barreling over Roubaix’s cobbles or punching over the sand of Strade Bianche if he’s tuning himself for a week-long race? Although Jumbo-Visma has somehow found a way to keep Roglič on stellar form from August to November, can they similarly keep Wout in winning ways through a potentially long 2021 season?
I’m excited to see Wout broaden his horizons.
The dude can seemingly do anything, so I’m intrigued to see how far he can go. But I’m possibly more stoked that whatever he does, he knows what he wants most: to keep brawling his way through the gnarliest, windiest and wettest races in northern Europe’s early-season races.
“Expanding my classics record remains a priority,” he said. “Maybe one day I will change course [to grand tours], but that is still a long way off.”
Bring on watching Wout string together one week of winning at Tirreno. But most importantly, bring on more nail-biting battles and red-hot rivalries with Alaphilippe and van der Poel in the one-dayers.