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Wout van Aert uncertain for Paris-Roubaix as cobblestone countdown commences

Jumbo-Visma prioritizes long-term health of its top star in return from COVID infection: 'We are more cautious than cautious.'

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Jumbo-Visma won’t commit to whether Wout van Aert will be racing Paris-Roubaix just yet.

Van Aert was forced to skip his Amstel Gold Race defense last weekend and might still be on the sidelines for Sunday’s “Hell of the North” as he returns from a recent brush with COVID.

“I can’t say anything certain about Roubaix,” team boss Richard Plugge told Het Laatste Nieuws. “Wout is training and now we have to see how he develops.

“We follow his training closely. Before we decide, we will do extensive testing, to see if everything is OK with his heart and such. We look at it day by day. But one thing is certain – we are not taking any risks with the health of our riders.”

Also read: Wout van Aert out of Flanders

Van Aert was zapped by COVID just days ahead of the Tour of Flanders at the turn of the month, forcing him out of De Ronde and Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race.

He made a rapid return to riding after what Jumbo-Visma described as “light symptoms,” but there’s no guarantee we’ll see “WvA” on the start line Sunday.

Plugge said the team is prioritizing long-term health over short-term goals given the potential cardiological hangover associated with coronavirus.

“There are still goals to come,” Plugge said Sunday. “Later this year and for years to come. I’d rather he take two weeks off now, or three weeks, or five weeks for my part, if that’s necessary to be able to race normally again afterward.”

Van Aert has unfinished business and big ambition for Roubaix after he left last year’s mud-splattered edition out of the frame and frustrated with seventh place.

Should he not make the start in Compiègne on Sunday, it will be down to Tiesj Benoot, Christophe Laporte, and Mike Teunissen to fly the flag for Plugge’s Jumbo-Visma crew.

As one of the many victims of COVID’s first wave, Plugge’s ultra-cautious approach with his racers is tinted with personal experience.

“I myself had very bad COVID two years ago, in the first wave. Until today I still feel the effects of that when I exercise. I am of course of a completely different level than our riders, but I have experienced what the impact of COVID can be,” he told HLN.

“We have made a very clear agreement with our medical management that we are more cautious than cautious, also because we do not know the effects of COVID in the longer term. Your heart, your muscle metabolism, your lungs can all be affected.”