BINCHE, Belgium (VN) — Belgian Wout Van Aert could not imagine racing the Tour de France already in 2019, but now the former cyclo-cross star has helped Jumbo-Visma win two stages and defends the yellow jersey with teammate Mike Teunissen.
Van Aert also wears the white jersey of the best rider under the age of 25. It’s an impressive feat for a man who is racing his first Tour de France.
“It’s a dream start for the whole team, also for me, still in Belgium, my home country, so it feels quite unreal,” Van Aert said.
“We are still enjoying the moment of having the yellow jersey. The pressure is already off the team, we just want to go on from here and gain as much results as possible.”
Van Aert won the ‘cross title three times and switched over to the road with great success in the classics in 2018. Preparing for an eventual 2019 Tour start, he raced the Critérium du Dauphiné and won two stages.
Jumbo-Visma signed Van Aert for 2019. Last year, he rode for Vérandas Willems-Crelan and left the team for greater opportunities. This spring, he placed third in Strade Bianche, sixth in Milano-Sanremo and second in the E3 BinckBank Classic. In the Tour of Flanders he finished 14th and in Paris-Roubaix, 22nd.
After an altitude camp with Steven Kruijswijk, team boss Richard Plugge knew Van Aert could race the Tour. They put him in the Critérium du Dauphiné and after the Roanne time trial and Voiron stage, they slotted the 24-year-old in his first grand tour.
“I just want to make it to the finish, to become a better rider, but what we have archived already now is a big bonus,” Van Aert said.
“I think I’ll have some chances, but I want to also support the team.”
With Dylan Groenewegen crashing, Mike Teunissen took the reins and beat Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the stage one sprint in Brussels. Yesterday, they topped Team Ineos by 20 seconds in the time trial to keep Teunissen in the well in the lead and to win a second stage.
Van Aert added, “Everyone was relaxed before and it was good but right now, it’s just unreal to have a big start like this and everyone is so happy and every thing is going well.”
Stage three is similar to an Ardennes Classics from Belgium and through the Champagne region of France to finish in Épernay. If Teunissen does not keep it, then Van Aert at 10 seconds in second place overall could move into the yellow jersey lead.
“There are lot of turns, small roads, normally it suits me,” he continued.
“I’d like to [wear the yellow jersey], of course, but I think Mike is strong as well. The most important is that we are not third and fourth, but make a clear plan who is going for the sprint.
“Of course we want to have the yellow jersey tonight, I think we are strong enough to keep it, but it’s also a finish that suits Mike, so we have two cards to play and the best thing we can do is make a good plan and go for the stage victory.”