The Belgian rider recently extended his contract to stay with Jumbo-Visma through 2024, but Brailsford confirmed there was a kernel of truth to the reports. Speaking to journalists in a media call, Brailsford confirmed some contact was made.
“Of course, when everybody is out of contract, and when somebody says can we talk to you, can we have a meeting to talk about Wout van Aert, nobody is going to say no,” said Brailsford, suggesting it was not Ineos Grenadiers who initiated the contact.
There was a big splash last month during van Aert’s contract negotiations after media reports raised the prospect that the Belgian superstar might join cycling’s richest team. Van Aert has emerged as one of the top names in the classics, and the Ineos Grenadiers team — heavily focused on grand tours in 2021 — could use some muscle on the cobbles.
Despite some apparent talks with van Aert’s representatives, the Belgian star is staying with Jumbo-Visma for now.
Brailsford said Ineos Grenadiers’s northern classics program will continue with its core riders, such as Luke Rowe and Dylan Van Baarle, and suggested riders like Filippo Ganna and Tom Pidcock can develop into potential stars in the classics.
“It seems like we’re talking to everybody all the time,” Brailsford said with a laugh. “It’s fair to say, with a rider like Wout van Aert, he’s a fantastic rider and he’s fantastic to watch. Realistically, I think he’s happy where he is, and we’ll look forward to competing with him.”
Brailsford on Tom Dumoulin: ‘I hope he can come back’
Last month, the Dutch star stunned his Jumbo-Visma teammates and decided to take an undetermined pause on his racing career. Dumoulin, who finished second to Geraint Thomas in the 2018 Tour de France, was expected to be part of Jumbo-Visma’s front line assault on the 2021 Tour.
“I see it through the lens of Tom the person first, this is not about Tom the bike rider. It’s about how he is as a human being, and how he’s doing, and that’s the most important thing,” Brailsford told reporters last week. “The performer is built on the person, and clearly if he needs some time out, that’s the right thing for him to do.”
When asked if it would be a plus for Ineos Grenadiers if Dumoulin was not racing the Tour this summer, Brailsford countered that it’s better for the sport if all the best athletes are in the peloton.
“I wouldn’t see it in the context of a positive or a negative,” he said during a Zoom call. “If you want to get the best out of yourself, you’ve got to have great competition. You want to be up against the best competitors, and he’s one of the better bike riders in the world, so hopefully he’ll come back better and stronger, and we can enjoy racing together again.
“He’s done a lot for the sport,” he continued. “He’s a classy guy on the bike, so all of us in the sport of cycling should be getting behind him and hope he’s OK.”