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After undergoing an appendectomy in May and spending several weeks off the bike, the Belgian ace says he is still regaining form after missing vital training time.
“I’m not where I should be yet, but I feel more than OK,” van Aert told Sporza’s De Tribune podcast. “I’m ready to race. Initially, I hoped to put the finishing touches on my form this week, now it’s just a matter of building up the base.”
Van Aert was the ultimate do-it-all swiss army knife rider in Jumbo-Visma’s toolkit last summer. Van Aert was all over the 2020 Tour, setting the tempo deep into the mountains, shepherding Primož Roglič through tough hilly and windy stages, and twice sprinting to stage wins.
After choosing to train at altitude and catch up on lost time rather than race the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this month, van Aert is tamping down expectations ahead of this year’s Tour, starting next Saturday.
“With this condition, I may have to be a little more patient,” van Aert said Saturday. “I’m not really aiming for pure bunch sprints, other guys have a line for that. I have a better chance on the more difficult finishes.”
Van Aert is equally mindful of having to stretch his form through the Tokyo Olympics.
The Olympic road events come just one week after the Tour rolls into Paris, and so van Aert is hoping to leave a little gas in the tank for the Tokyo time trial.
“I won’t be able to work uphill this year like last year, because I still have a lot of ambition after the Tour,” he said.
“My role is more in the windy races and the hectic finals. That’s why the green jersey is not a goal. You have to get that jersey by going full every day – you don’t get it easily.”
Although van Aert has ruled out his hopes for bunch sprints, he remains optimistic for the Tour’s two long time trials on stages 5 and 20.
“The time trials are marked in red. I have been able to do all the time trial training, also with a view to Tokyo,” he said. “I hope to be at the right level, but if I am only in shape by the time trial at the end of the Tour, then I am also a happy man.”
Van Aert returns to racing for the first time in over two months at the Belgian national road race Sunday, where he will be battling the likes of Remco Evenepoel and Tim Merlier for the iconic tricolor jersey. His performance in Belgium this weekend may provide hints at what to expect on the roads of France later this month.