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No one is counting out the Jumbo-Visma star’s late-hour decision to race “La Doyenne.”
After proving he can win across a variety of terrain in one-days and grand tours, even the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will be keeping an eye on Van Aert.
“I think it’s great he’s racing. He is hors-catégorie and can win just about everything,” Valverde told DH. “For me, he has every chance to win Sunday. I would even say he is the number one favorite to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège.”
So far in his public statements about his chances, Van Aert is playing down his chances with an “aw, shucks” attitude, or at least is playing a good game of poker.
“I am looking forward to Liège, but I am not the favorite,” Van Aert said. “Maybe I can turn a disadvantage into an advantage.”
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On Thursday, Van Aert and his teammates inspected key sectors of the Liège finale during a training ride, riding over La Redoute and the Roche aux Faucons to have a feel for the decisive bits of the race.
The new finish-line dynamic at Liège, with the finale now on the flats into the city center rather than the hilltop finale at Ans, will also favor Van Aert.
Jumbo-Visma sport director Frans Maassen says it’s only a matter of time before Van Aert wins Liège.
“That will certainly happen one day. Wout can win any race, even Il Lombardia,” Maessen told Sporza. “I think anything is possible with Wout.
“If you win a Tour stage after a double climb of Mont Ventoux, I think you can do it at Liège,” he said. “The combination between Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège is not ideal, but if anyone should be able to do it, it is Wout.”
In fact, the rescheduled Paris-Roubaix, which was moved “back” a week on the calendar due to French presidential elections, is repositioning Liège back to its historic spot on the calendar.
For decades, the monuments unfolded with Flanders, Roubaix, and Liège all in a row, on subsequent weekends.
A COVID-19 diagnosis sidelined Van Aert for Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race, but roared back with a wallop last week at Roubaix, riding to a career-first podium with second place behind Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers).
With victories at E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Van Aert is clearly on top form, and as he himself said the other day, “you don’t lose that in a week or two.”
His confidence sounds on the up following the course inspection, telling Het Nieuwsblad that he’s up for a fight.
“I believe I can do something here, otherwise I wouldn’t start,” he told the Belgian daily. “It was a tricky recon, but that’s no surprise. I train a lot here and I already knew the climbs. It is interesting to explore the final, to see how fast you are at the finish.
“The most interesting thing was the descent towards the finish, which I didn’t know yet,” Van Aert said. “It’s a beautiful arrival. You’ll be there soon after the last descent. If you don’t make it to the top of the Roche aux Faucons, there will be no chance.
“It usually explodes there, but you have to get there first. Many have already been gapped before. Trying to follow will be hard enough.”