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Wout van Aert on debut Liège-Bastogne-Liège: ‘Third was the best possible I could do’

Jumbo-Visma star closes out the 2022 classics with another podium in a ‘sprint of dying swans,’ but laments missing out on a mission to win a monument this spring.

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LIEGE, Bastogne (VN) — Wout van Aert rode to another podium Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the monument he least expected to race, let alone win.

The Jumbo-Visma star kicked to third behind solo winner Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) for another monument podium in what was a wild and uneven spring classics campaign marked by a COVID-19 infection and a reshuffled calendar.

“I think third was the best possible I could do,” Van Aert said. “I tried to follow the best climbers and on top of the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, I struggled to keep up. In the final kilometers I gave everything to sprint for the podium, which took a lot of strength. It was a sprint of dying swans, but fortunately, it was just enough for the podium. Riding in the Belgian championship jersey, I really wanted a podium place.”

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Van Aert was a late addition to Liège after recovering from COVID, and kicking to a career-first podium at Paris-Roubaix last weekend. He decided to add Liège to his calendar because he was forced to miss the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race.

It stings enough not to win, but Van Aert knows it’s a lot worse to finish fourth and miss the podium at a race as hard and challenging as Liège.

After crossing the line, Van Aert rode straight to his wife and son, and gave him his helmet. He then plugged into race radio to find out if he was third or fourth. As soon as he got the good news, he went to the podium protocol for the ceremony to cap his 2022 classics season with a final podium.

“I absolutely wanted to sprint for second place,” he said. “I’m glad I didn’t finish fourth because that’s nothing to you. But I fell completely silent and at the finish, I was afraid they had passed me. Third place is obviously not what I’m starting for, but I’m proud of it.”

Van Aert lived up to expectations to stay in the hunt for victory in the climb-heavy course across the Walloon Ardennes, but it wasn’t easy.

He couldn’t answer Evenepoel when he jumped on La Redoute, and then struggled to mark some of the searing accelerations on the final climbs. Using his brute force and racing smarts, he could play off the dynamics of the other chasers, and rode into downtown Liège with chances for the podium.

“Remco has taken his moment. La Redoute was a quick climb, but attacking there often turns out to be too early. The only tactic for me was to wait until Roche-aux-Faucons, then hope I was still hanging on to it at the top,” Van Aert said. “That was the only right thing because I needed all my energy to return after that.

“But Remco was really super, super, super strong. Staying ahead against teams that were still working and were riding very hard, especially with that headwind,” he said. “Very impressive performance, chapeau!”

Wout van Aert: ‘I have shown that I can win here someday’

Wout Van Aert closes out the 2022 classics season with a podium. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Van Aert was pleased to hear over the radio that he was indeed third.

A podium here gives him a solid spring season despite some unexpected setbacks. A winner at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Saxo Bank Classic, he was the hot favorite for De Ronde until he was hit with a case of COVID-19. A forced stop saw him miss both Flanders and Amstel Gold Race.

He recovered well and traveled to Spain to keep his legs going. After a long winter of preparation, Van Aert didn’t want to just give up hope. The fact that French elections pushed Paris-Roubaix back a week on the calendar gave Van Aert even more time to recover.

After team doctors gave him the OK, he was cleared to race and roared to a first-ever podium at Roubaix with second place.

The podium at Liège only gives him more confidence going into the future, and he will now add the Belgian monument to his “to-do list.”

“I’ve seen that I can win here someday, for sure. If I have an exceptional day or the right situation that suits me better. We will see that in the future,” he said.

“I think we can look back on a good spring. Our goal was to win a monument, but we didn’t succeed,” he said. “I can invoke circumstances for that, but all in all I’m happy with what I could get out of it. Although it is certainly not 10 out of 10.”

When asked if he’s building up for the Tour de France, he laughed, and said, “dismantling first.”