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The road to the world championships goes through Canada for Wout van Aert

Belgian world's favorite isn't in Québec and Montréal for training camp: 'These are two races on my bucket list to win.'

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QUEBEC, Canada (VN) — The road to the rainbow jersey goes through Canada for Wout van Aert and his quest to win the UCI road world championship.

The Jumbo-Visma superstar endured a 10-hour odyssey to arrive in Canada overnight, and is preparing to race the one-day WorldTour races at Québec an Montréal this weekend.

After racing Sunday in Montréal, he will fly directly to Australia to prepare for an onslaught on the rainbow jersey.

It’s as if Van Aert cannot get to Wollongong fast enough.

“It’s a matter of the smoothest way to overcome the traveling,” he said. “If I would go back to Belgium that is already a big trip, and then after a few days, to repack and it would be more traveling to go to Australia, and less time for training.

“Now we can go straight away, and we can do some quality sessions in Australia before resting up and racing the worlds.”

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Van Aert will be a big favorite in Australia, and for this week’s pair of one-day WorldTour races in Canada.

Hot off winning the Bretagne Classic-Ouest France and finishing second at Bemer Cyclassics earlier this month in his return to racing after the Tour de France, this week makes his debut in Canada.

He was scheduled to race here in 2019, but was sidelined with injury. And the last two editions were canceled by COVID-19, so he said he’s excited about trying to win the races.

“I am looking forward to doing the races. I saw the final kilometers here in Québec today, and it looks really hard,” Van Aert said. “It’s for explosive riders,  for classics riders like me, and it’s special to ride on a circuit course.

“These are two races that are on my bucket list to win.”

Van Aert ‘not surprised’ by Remco Evenepoel’s Vuelta a España romp

Wout van Aert is hoping to win in Canada ahead of the Australian worlds. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

It was a long trip for Van Aert to arrive here, who wanted to fly direct to Québec instead of going via a transfer in Montréal.

Unexpectedly, the flight was turned back once it over the Atlantic to return to France for refueling, so rather than taking six hours, it was 10 hours on the plane.

“I think it was karma,” Van Aert joked. “But at least I was comfortable on the plane.”

When he landed for refueling, Van Aert did take advantage of the unscheduled stop to watch the final moments of Tuesday’s stage at the Vuelta a España live on TV.

His Jumbo-Visma teammate Primož Roglič made what looked to be an important gap only to crash a few meters from the finish line. Roglič did not start Wednesday’s stage despite poised in second overall.

“It was more exciting than a normal sprint stage. I was cheering for Primož, and he made a really nice surprise. What a shame to see him crashing,” Van Aert said. “It was a hard crash and hard to overcome his injury. It was a lot of drama.”

Without Roglič, Van Aert said the road is clear for Remco Evenepoel to become Belgium’s first grand tour winner since 1978.

“Remco has a bigger chance now, because Primož was his biggest competitor and he knows what it takes to win the Vuelta,” he said. “He had plans in the last week and you could see yesterday he was strong. For sure his biggest opponent is out of the race.

“It’s impressive to see how he races the last week,” Van Aert said of Evenepoel. “Yes and no [if Evenepoel is a surprise]. I always believed in Remco’s ability to do this. It’s still a new situation for him to defend the jersey so far in the race, so that’s strong to see. I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise, but for everybody it was a question mark.”

Despite some troubles in the wake of last year’s controversial outcome at the Leuven road worlds, where Evenepoel attacked early instead of riding to support Van Aert, the Belgian star said he’s cheering for his compatriot at the Vuelta, especially now that Roglič is no longer in the race.

“And, of course, as a Belgian, it’s nice to see what’s happening now,” Van Aert said. “Everybody is crossing their fingers for a new grand tour winner. And we have a big cycling history, but it’s been really, really long time for a GC rider like Remco. So that’s really nice to see. And he’s been one of the strongest riders for the last weeks, so he deserves it.”

From Canada, all roads lead to Wollongong. Van Aert is hoping to come out of the races with a few more trophies before what would be his biggest prize — the rainbow jersey.

The favorites pose for photographers ahead of Friday’s GP Québec. (Photo: James Startt/GPCQM)