How many different tool bits remain to be pulled out of the peloton’s ultimate swiss knife, Wout van Aert?
Van Aert soared twice over the Mont Ventoux, bossed the best in a specialists’ TT, and outkicked Mark Cavendish to take a spectacular trio of stage wins at this year’s Tour de France. He was the first to accomplish the feat since Eddy Merckx in 1974 and Bernard Hinault in 1979.
Van Aert stamped his ticket as the most versatile rider in the peloton in a whirlwind three weeks that even he struggled to wrap his head around.
“I cannot believe it,” van Aert said after completing his hat trick Sunday. “This Tour has been amazing, it’s been such a rollercoaster. To finish with a win like this is beyond expectations.”
There won't be anything more out of context than this. pic.twitter.com/qJwmrMdxWC
— Cycling out of context (@OutOfCycling) July 18, 2021
The Tour marks just the start of a summer schedule stretching from Tokyo’s mountains through the stones of Roubaix in a list of ambitions that further reinforces van Aert’s all-singing skillset.
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After a brief reunion with his wife Sarah and seven-month-old son Georges on Sunday night, van Aert was on a plane to Tokyo as he heads toward his next major goal.
Van Aert started the Tour behind schedule after his appendix surgery but surged into form in the final weeks. Now, after beating back some of the biggest engines in the peloton on the Tour’s “wine trial,” van Aert is a top contender for the Olympic TT, and many are touting him for top honors at the road race.
Although van Aert was cautious in talking himself up, it would be hard to bet against him scoring at least one medal in the coming weeks.
“I guess I’ll try to win both [the road race and TT], but of course it’s going to be really difficult,” he said Sunday. “Though for now, I’m still overwhelmed by the victories of this weekend.”
No GC for now
With cyclocross world titles, monument victories, and Tour stage wins to his name, van Aert has become the peloton’s ultimate do-it-all dynamo.
By carefully toeing the line between outright power and climbing speed, he has been able to both outclimb the featherweight Kenny Elissonde on the Ventoux and outpace Kasper Asgreen in Saint-Émilion in the time trial. It’s a combination that makes him a model GC contender.
But despite placing second behind only Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar in the mountainous Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this year, van Aert is in no rush to mold himself to classification racing.
“Whether Van Aert should ever go for the overall victory? He is currently still too busy with the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, with Milan-Sanremo,” team director Merijn Zeeman told Het Nieuswblad last week. “His career is still very long. Maybe he’ll give it a try someday.”
For van Aert to go all-in on GC racing would require a significant shift in weight and an all-new training approach, something that could blunt his kick for the mud and guts of the northern classics and cyclocross. It’s a sacrifice he’s not willing to make in the near future.
“If I retrain myself to become a great prodigy, I’d go to a point of no return — my body will change, I’d lose kilos and lose all my qualities to win classics and sprints,” he said. “I don’t want that.”
Sound on😏 pic.twitter.com/b53sVsUA8u
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) July 19, 2021
As a through-and-through Flandrien, van Aert has long been hunting a cobbled monument and he isn’t likely to turn his back on the heavy one-day races just yet.
What about in the long-term?
Van Aert has three years on his contract with Jumbo-Visma. The Dutch outfit is already bristling with GC talent on multi-year deals, and so space for him for stage starts is limited. And with Jumbo-Visma committed to reinforcing its classics roster around van Aert, the 26-year-old’s place in the super-squad is cemented squarely in the northern spring.
And maybe that’s for the best.
Van Aert’s decades-long ‘cross and classics rivalry with Mathieu van der Poel is the gift that keeps on giving, and the freedom he was afforded as a non-GC racer at this year’s Tour led to a trio of victories only some of the “GOATs” of racing have pulled off.
Although he’s not the flashiest on the bike and modest off it, van Aert’s multi-faceted skillset keeps modern racing exciting in its unpredictability. A GC specialization would significantly limit his range.
An Olympic gold medal, Paris-Roubaix victory, and world title on home roads are all strong possibilities for van Aert and his swiss knife skill set in the coming months.
Who needs GC anyway? Wout van Aert is awesome as he is.