Wout van Aert was left swinging when the racing hit warp speed at E3 Saxo Bank Classic on Friday. But rather than being the victim of a Mathieu van der Poel wattbomb or a Deceuninck-Quick-Step swarming, van Aert seemed to be the master of his own destruction.
The Belgian supremo threw an ambitious attack in the finale of Friday’s race, motoring away at the head of the bunch on the Tiegemberg climb. After a few seconds of pulling, van Aert glanced around, spied van der Poel on his wheel, and promptly hit the handbrake as his legs went to jelly.
Hot off the back of a stacked schedule of Italian races, Jumbo-Visma directors are confident van Aert is right where he needs to be ahead of top spring goals at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. So was their classics center point just overly ambitious at the E3?
Van Aert’s race began to literally deflate beneath him at around 70km to go Friday. After an untimely puncture left the Belgian and his team working a group time trial in pursuit of a charging lead move, van Aert regained contact and clicked straight onto the offense.
“WvA” pushed the pace in the chase behind Danish dynamo and eventual winner Kasper Asgreen, putting the motor into a stellar group that could have shared the pulling. And then, when the time arrived for van Aert to throw what he had hoped would be his decisive hammer blow, his legs left him, leaving him to grind home in 11th-place.
“Because of that flat tire, I lost a bullet that I missed in the final,” van Aert said. “I also felt good in the end, so I didn’t see it coming at the Tiegemberg. My legs were empty and I had to sit down. It was game over.”
Speaking ahead of Friday’s E3 Classic, Jumbo-Visma sport director Arthur van Dongen told VeloNews that the brains behind van Aert’s training and race schedule were confident that their captain was exactly where he wanted to be ahead of his big goal of De Ronde, April 4.
“He’s on track for those races for sure,” van Dongen said on a telephone call. “When I look at the results from the Italian block of races – two victories and second in the GC at Tirreno-Adriatico, third in San Remo, fourth in Strade Bianche – for sure he’s got really good form. He’s right on track for the races coming up, he’s right where he needs to be.”
Was van Aert’s relentless pulling in the chase groups behind Asgreen a sign of overconfidence after a relentless start to the season?
Seems like it.
After tearing through Tirreno-Adriatico and coming close to defending his title at Milano-Sanremo last weekend, the 26-year-old certainly wasn’t out of shape or missing his racing-legs.
The only question mark was whether van Aert was over-trained after a big porzione of Italian action – particularly given van der Poel suggested Friday afternoon that the two weeks of intensity in Italy may have blunted his legs for Friday’s classic.
However, van Dongen was confident van Aert was red-hot after his Italian exploits, and ready to hit the big time in the cobbled classics.
“Riding that hard a block of races made him better,” van Dongen said ahead of Friday’s race. “We’re really behind the plan of an altitude camp, the Italian races and now the northern races. And we can see already that it’s really paying off. He may not have won a classic yet, but he’s ready.”
Van Aert now has eight days and the mammoth Gent-Wevelgem before his monument ambitions at De Ronde.
Whether his E3 implosion was a sign of overconfidence or just bad luck on the day, there will be no room for error in the 265km onslaught of Flanders next weekend.