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Tour de France

Van Aert to be let off leash for Tour de France time trial

Star domestique to be given freedom to race for victory – and a possible hat trick of stage wins – at the Tour's ITT on Saturday.

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Domestique-de-luxe Wout van Aert has already taken two Tour de France stage wins on the days he’s not decimating the peloton on the climbs of Pyrénées and Alps on behalf of team leader Primož Roglič. And now, with just an individual time trial and bunch sprint remaining to wrap up the race, the Belgian star may have his chance to go for a hat-trick.

Just as capable at beating the best against the clock as he is outsprinting the finest fastmen or throttling the field on mountain passes, the Jumbo-Visma superdomestique will  be given free rein at the Tour’s final weekend – provided he can make it work with his goals for the world championships next week.

“The plan is for Wout to give his full chance in the time trial,” Jumbo-Visma head coach Mathieu Heijboer told AD show In het Wiel on Friday.

“We make these kinds of decisions together. He likes it and so do we, so he goes for it.”

Saturday’s 36-kilometer time trial starts out straightforward enough, though there’s a twist to the tale thanks to a fearsome six-kilometer kick to the line at the top of the cat.1 Planche des Belles Filles climb. This time last year, the steep slopes of the final would likely have ruled Van Aert out of contention for Saturday’s 20th stage, but since the season restarted this summer, the brawny Belgian has shown he can easily climb with those 10kg lighter that him.

“It will be difficult for him to win. He will have to make a gap with the top climbers in the first 30 flat kilometers,” Heijboer said. “Nowadays, Wout is also a real climber, of course, but there is still a difference between a Wout and a Primož Roglič that rides fully uphill. If Wout wants to win the time trial, he probably needs a buffer of about forty seconds on Roglič at the foot of La Planche des Belles Filles. ”

Van Aert’s approach to the climb will be left to the last minute, with the 26-year-old planning to make a late assessment of his form and fatigue. With ambitions on the rainbow bands at the Imola world championship time trial Friday, Van Aert want to leave something in the legs for his challenge in Italy.

“I am always eager to go for it … my trainers have to see how realistic the combination with the World Cup is,” Van Aert said Friday. “They can estimate what I need to be top next week. If the combination is possible, I will not pass up the opportunity tomorrow.

“I will not ride at 95 percent tomorrow. The choice is between going 100 percent or just making sure that I arrive on time. All or nothing.”

If Van Aert choses to cool his jets Saturday, a stab at sprint victory on the Champs-Élysées on Sunday is also a possibility for him to take his hat-trick of victories.  However, with teammate Roglič now just 36km away from securing the yellow jersey, he may be too full of champagne for a sprint showdown on the Champs.

Jumbo-Visma already has the bubbles on ice ready for a celebration in Paris.

“If Primož is spared bad luck, it will be fine,” Heijboer said. “He is very strong in this kind of time trial and he is in his best shape ever.”