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Wout van Aert has long been touted as one of the most versatile riders in the peloton, but this year’s Tour de France rubber-stamped his status as the WorldTour’s proverbial Swiss Army Knife.
Van Aert’s spectacular trio of Tour stage victories encompassed a mountain stage, time trial, and sprint stage. It’s a feat that is eye-popping, given the sport’s emphasis on specialization. TT riders agonize over aerodynamics, climbers are lithe, and sprinters are heavy.
Van Aert’s all-terrain triple made him the first rider to win three different types of stages since Eddy Merckx in 1974 and Bernard Hinault in 1979. And van Aert had to work hard for each victory. He distanced pint-sized Kenny Elissonde over a double ascent of the Ventoux, then beat multiple TT specialists in the Saint-Émilion vineyards, before kicking past a resurgent Mark Cavendish on the Champs-Élysées. The nature of each win made van Aert’s accomplishment shine even brighter.
Van Aert went on to score a “disappointing” second and sixth in the Olympic time trial and road race just weeks after the Tour. I challenge you to name another rider that has hit the top six in both disciplines at the Games in recent Olympic cycles after also racing through the ’cross and classics seasons.
Some had suggested that van Aert’s archrival Mathieu van der Poel was the ultimate do-it-all rider in 2021. I believe it was van Aert who truly stole the show.