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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Wout van Aert and Jumbo-Visma ignite classics with faultless performance

'Celebrating the win with wild gestures wouldn’t have been appropriate' Belgian says as he shows support for Ukraine

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NINOVE, Belgium (VN) — Belgian champion Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) kicked off his 2022 road season in style with a tremendous solo victory in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Belgian opener of the cycling season.

The 27-year-old crossed the finish line while making the peace sign in a gesture towards the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

“Cycling is the most important sideshow in the world, with the emphasis on sideshow,” Van Aert stated in the post-race flash interview.

“Celebrating the win with wild gestures wouldn’t have been appropriate. I thought it was important to show the peace gesture. It’s insane to see what is going on. One would think that human beings are more intelligent than going to war nowadays. Apparently, that’s not the case everywhere. I hope common sense will prevail for the people who are inflicted in the conflict,” Van Aert added.

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Van Aert was riding conservatively for 170 kilometers and only appeared in the front rows of the peloton at the Berendries climb, 30km from the finish in Ninove. He was one of only three riders who marked the acceleration from his new teammate Tiesj Benoot.

The latter wasn’t the only Jumbo-Visma rider who impressed on Saturday afternoon. Mike Teunissen was ruled out with an injury last year and he can be seen as a strong addition to the classics team as well.

“There were five riders who were riding their first race here and still we were considered as favorites, which was kind of weird. We chose not to spend energy in trying to avoid the role of favorites and to be ambitious at the start of the race. We took our responsibility. We didn’t have to win today but it was good to see we rode well as a team and won the race,” Van Aert said.

He was asked about the lackluster performance of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.

“I didn’t see everything from my position but I did spot that they had more absentees than usually,” van Aert said. “There are sometimes other reasons for that, so I don’t know about that. It’s great to see our team was going well. I would not have lost my confidence if the outcome today hadn’t been so good.

“The team allowed me to race differently compared to previous years. Back then I would’ve been in the moves from the Wolvenberg onwards. But then I would’ve been without teammates at the Berendries.”

A large group of riders reached the cobbled Bosberg climb, the final challenge of the day at 12km from the finish. Van Aert surprised his rivals with an attack at the foot of the climb, before reaching the cobbled section. Nobody marked his wheel.

“On the Bosberg everybody would be ready and where I attacked the pace dropped and it was a bit of a surprise,” van Aert said. “Both Tiesj and I chose to attack rather than wait today. We were in control of the race and maybe other riders would bridge back up. After the Bosberg there’s nothing else left. At that moment the attack was the better option.

“The plan was to ride full gas to the top and see who was there with me. At the top, I saw that I was alone. I never attack to drop everybody. One attacks to see what it does. It was a good moment and if I would’ve been at the top with three other riders it would’ve been good too,” added with a big smile on his face.

Van Aert will not race Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday, the traditional second race of the Belgian “opening weekend.” He will race Paris-Nice and then Milan-San Remo as a build-up to the rest of the spring classics.

“The plan is not to race too much because I want to maintain good form as long as possible. Last year’s racing in Tirreno-Adriatico cost a lot of energy. I’ll pick out some stages where I can support Primoz,” van Aert said.