A bet on Wout van Aert could pay off at Roubaix

Van Aert has rewarded his team's backing with impressive performances through the classics. With proven ability on the cobbles, he is more than ready for Roubaix.

GENT, Belgium (VN) — Sooner or later, Wout van Aert seems destined to win a big race. And everyone inside the Jumbo-Visma team bus hopes it’s Sunday in the Roubaix velodrome.

The 24-year-old Belgian continues to barnstorm through his sophomore effort in the northern classics. A second-place finish at E3 BinckBank Classic only served to reconfirm that van Aert can hang with the best in the major one-days.

After missing out at a chance for a podium at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the team is hoping to end the cobblestoned classics with a bang.

“We still have one race to go,” said Jumbo-Visma general manager Richard Plugge. “He shows a big impression so far in what he’s doing in these races. If he keeps doing this, the biggest result will come.”

With second at E3 and third at Strade Bianche, van Aert’s second gallop across the bumpy roads of the northern classics verifies that last year was no fluke.

In 2018, van Aert dazzled the peloton with his dramatic debut. This year he is going deeper and proving more consistent, and reconfirming he can be a protagonist in every major one-day on the calendar. And if his sophomore season seems a bit less spectacular, it is simply because now a victory is what everyone expects.

The three-time cyclocross world champion has been right in the thick of things in every race, an important step in his evolution as a one-day rider.

Supported by a very strong Jumbo-Visma team throughout the spring classics, van Aert has been consistently positioning himself into contention for victory. Only a fresh Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), who was sitting in for much of E3 with teammate Bob Jungels up the road, could better van Aert. His result at Gent-Wevelgem (29th) doesn’t tell the story of how Jumbo-Visma almost blew up the race.

Despite high expectations at Flanders, he ran out of gas on the Oude Kwaremont when eventual winner Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) attacked to solo home for the win. Van Aert admitted he did not have the legs to follow and finished with the front group in 14th.

“Wout was there where he needed to be, but Wout did not have the legs to do what he needed to do,” Plugge said. “He was in the right spot, but you need the extraordinary legs to achieve an extraordinary result.”

While the northern classics end Sunday at Paris-Roubaix, everyone inside the Jumbo-Visma organization is looking optimistically toward the future.

With van Aert, the Dutch team has found a proven and still-improving leader who will only get better with time. The team has built up a strong supporting cast around van Aert that rivals say is one of the deepest squads in the classics. Patience is a virtue in the monuments, and payback can take years before a rider can strike gold in the hard-to-win one-days.

“Wout has shown on the cobbles he is one of the best,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels. “For sure he is able to win a big classic. I don’t have the clue to the difference of being second or fifth or first. As it is for everyone, everything has to fall into place. Every race has a different final.”

Van Aert lines up on Sunday for a second stab at Paris-Roubaix as a very different rider than he was last year. He now has a solid team supporting him on the roads, and an organization that has made a long-term bet on his future.

“Before the start of the road season, there was a question mark,” Engels said. “You can see it, in the way he rides, he is someone who is in very good shape, physically and mentally. The good thing is that we are close and the group has a very good future, and a very good spirit.”

In the northern classics, good things often come to those who wait. Sunday’s Roubaix is the ultimate test of strength, fortitude, and desire. Van Aert seems to have all those boxes checked.