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The classics champion returns from a COVID-induced layoff at the “Hell of the North” on Sunday in a “FOMO” ride that will see him play super domestique for his Jumbo-Visma teammates.
“My role will be a little different to usual. I usually am the leader. This year we are racing in a way that we are trying to get to the final with many. But I’m usually the one who can keep quiet the longest,” van Aert said in a video from his Jumbo-Visma team.
“I hope to get somewhere in the final and support Christophe [Laporte], Nathan [van Hooydonck] or Mike [Teunissen]. If I’m just OK I hope to get into the final and be able to help those guys. It’s a race you can’t predict, and in a supporting role, many guys have already gone far here. I secretly hope for that.”
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Van Aert centered his season on doing a Tour of Flanders – Paris-Roubaix cobblestone double.
After being forced out of Flanders and then Amstel Gold Race with what he described as a ‘mild’ brush with coronavirus, van Aert acknowledged he’s out of race condition, but couldn’t face another weekend sat on the sidelines.
Five or six days of inactivity followed by a whirlwind pre-Roubaix training block left van Aert fit and healthy – but maybe not with monument-winning legs.
“I am not at the level I was before Tour of Flanders,” he said. “It is a beautiful race and I am someone who always races to win. The choice to ride anyway, even if not in the best possible condition, is mainly to not have the feeling of having missed out on anything. I am here with that approach and that gives a lot of doubts. Of course, I hope for ‘those’ legs but that is not realistic.
“I have been able to train a little more intensively the last few days I responded well to that. But everything that you wiped out during the inactivity and those first few quiet days of cycling, you can’t just recover. I will be a little less good, but it’s hard to say how much less.”
Van Aert has nothing to lose Sunday. For him, even making the startline in Compiegne is something – and what comes 257km later is another story.
“Watching the Ronde from the chair and then the Amstel wasn’t fun,” he said. “I’m delighted I can be here again, even if it’s with lesser legs. It would hurt more if I had to let go of this race as well.”