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From Teide to Tuscany: Wout van Aert makes season debut at Strade Bianche

Jumbo-Visma confident Van Aert will be ‘ready to race’ despite skipping Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in order to spend more time at altitude before classics campaign.

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Like an oracle coming down from the mountain, Wout van Aert is set to return to racing in Saturday’s Strade Bianche in a high-profile season debut on the white roads of Tuscany.

Can he part the waters, and ride away from the peloton? Jumbo-Visma brass has faith in their prophet of pain.

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“Wout will be ready,” Jumbo-Visma sport director Arthur van Dongen told VeloNews. “Every race he starts he goes with the intention of winning. The cyclocross racing and his altitude training mean he doesn’t need a warm-up race. He is such on a high level, normally he will be ready to race.”

The Belgian superstar, backed by a new contract that will keep him in a Jumbo-Visma yellow jacket through 2024, has been decamped on the top of the Teide volcano for the past several weeks.

After foregoing Belgium’s “opening weekend,” van Aert is coming off the volcanic heights at Teide, and landing right into the heart of the action this weekend in Italy, with a direct line to one of cycling’s most prestigious races.

Wout van Aert meters from his 2020 Strade win. Photo: James Startt

Can van Aert go from zero to victory in his first shot back? Jumbo-Visma is hoping so.

“Going deep for one hour in cyclocross is really good preparation,” van Dongen said in a telephone interview. “And last weekend, he did a race simulation during his training on Tenerife. He said that he feels good. He knows that he is ready to race and to be aiming for a result as high as possible.”

So why didn’t van Aert race the “opening weekend?” He was one of the glaring absences from the race that included many of the peloton’s classics heavyweights. For van Aert, it was all about finding time for everything, including a break.

“Wout wanted a bit of time off after racing cyclocross,” van Dongen said. “He took a short break after the cyclocross world championships, and then you have to do a minimum of 21 days at altitude. You have to make choices between cyclocross and his program on the road.”

Jumbo-Visma is fully backing van Aert both in his quest to dominate the classics, but also allowing him to keep a toe into the cyclocross scene. The mud racing helps with off-season training and explosiveness coming into the important classics season.

“We like to support Wout in the best possible way,” van Dongen said. “The altitude training works well with Wout. He did it last year also and he reacted really good to it.”

According to a report in Het Nieuwsblad, van Aert has been smashing all sorts of Strava records on several of the shorter, punchier climbs on the flanks of the Teide volcano.

Van Aert is scheduled to arrive in Italy on Wednesday, and the team will do a pre-race recon of the Strade Bianche course Thursday. A light training ride will keep the legs fresh Friday before Saturday’s clash on the white roads of Tuscany.

Van Aert tries a new way of washing off the dust as he celebrates on the podium.
Can van Aert descend from altitude on the Teide volcano and rise to victory again at this year’s Strade Bianche? Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

There is even a chance of rain.

“Wout does well in the heat as well, as we saw last year. The weather does not influence him,” he said.

“Wout is really hungry to win, to show himself and battle with the other guys,” van Dongen continued. “Remember, he is still young. He still has a lot of goals with the classics in the future, and with the Olympics this year. This season will be very special for Wout.”

Van Aert will start with the No. 1 bib as defending champion. After a pair of third places in 2018 and 2019, van Aert delivered a stunning victory last summer when Strade Bianche reopened the rescheduled WorldTour calendar in August.

Van Aert and Jumbo-Visma are certainly hoping to hit the repeat button in 2021.