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The Belgian champion is making his debut at the race this weekend and many riders have already tipped him for the title.
With defending champion Tadej Pogačar forced to pull out of the race due to personal circumstances, Van Aert’s chances of success look even better. He is playing his own chances down, but he did that before Paris-Roubaix and he finished second.
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“In this shape, I can definitely show something in Liège. I have a small chance of winning, but a good chance of a good result. I have a good opportunity to ride this classic,” Van Aert said in a team press release.
Liège-Bastogne-Liège was a late addition to Van Aert’s race program this spring after his classics campaign was upended by a COVID-19 diagnosis. He was forced to skip the Tour of Flanders as a result and only returned to racing action at Paris-Roubaix.
He and the team played down expectations at the “Hell of the North” saying that he was there to work for others. However, Van Aert looked in very good shape despite the time off and rode into second behind Dylan van Baarle.
Van Aert confirmed after the race that he would extend his spring into Liège-Bastogne-Liège for the first time in his career. Though he’s never raced “La Doyenne,” he’s well acquainted with the parcours and knows where the key points will be.
“After Paris-Roubaix, I took two days of rest, but I have already completed good training sessions. I often train in this region, so there were no surprises. I know the hills and their order,” he said.
“After la Roche-aux-Faucons there is an interesting descent to the finish. It is good that I have explored it. The race usually explodes on that climb. You have to be at the front at the top because it will be difficult coming back on the descent. By that time, many riders will have already been dropped. In that sense, it is an easy race. You have to ‘just’ keep following, although that is hard enough already.”
Van Aert’s inclusion in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège roster will be a big boost for the Jumbo-Visma team, particularly as 2020 champion Primož Roglič has been ruled out due to a knee injury he sustained earlier this month.
Nevertheless, the team still has Tiesj Benoot, Sepp Kuss, Sam Oomen, Jonas Vingegaard, Timo Roosen, and Jos van Emden alongside Van Aert. Sport director Frans Maassen believes that Van Aert will lift the level of the team but says that he is not the big favorite that many have picked him to be.
“Wout is looking forward to it and that’s great to see. It also ensures that his teammates are extra motivated. You’re twice as strong with such a leader in the team,” Maassen said. “It’s convenient that everything fits, and he can be at the start in good shape. Wout can play an essential role in every classic, also here in Liège. He has already shown great things in different areas.
“Wout is a special person; he always gets far when he puts his mind to something. He will not start here as the top favorite. He has already ridden a great spring. Hopefully, he can finish it off in a good way on Sunday”