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Winning is ‘good for the head’ for Tour de France-bound Wout van Aert

After not racing since the Ardennes, Jumbo-Visma star doesn't miss a beat to win the opening stage at Critérium du Dauphiné.

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VALENCE, France (VN) — Wout van Aert wins plenty of big races, so perhaps a stage victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné isn’t going to make his top-10 list.

Yet a “W” is always positive reinforcement going into one of the season’s major goals with the Tour de France just weeks.

The Jumbo-Visma star confirmed he’s on track for the Tour with a resounding victory Sunday to open the 2022 Dauphiné.

“For the palmarès, another win maybe it’s not that important, but for the head, it’s always important,” van Aert said at the line.

The victory in the Dauphiné’s searing opening stage counts as his 34th pro win, and his first since coming off a big training block in Spain’s Sierra Nevada.

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Van Aert was flying this spring, with a victory at E3 Saxo Bank and podiums at Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Van Aert proved yet again Sunday he is cycling’s Swiss army knife, able to win in a variety of conditions and scenarios.

He hadn’t raced since the Ardennes, but reminded everyone he can still win out of a select bunch sprint. Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) was second and Sean Quinn (EF Education-EasyPost) was third.

“There are always questions when you come back from a training camp, especially when you do a lot of climbing,” he said. “That makes you better, but you only get the final confirmation in the race. You can have good sensations in the training, but it’s different in the race.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much because the days after the camp I wasn’t feeling super.”

Van Aert was forced to improvise in the closing kilometers after Quick-Step’s Remí Cavagna went on a solo flier that disrupted Jumbo-Visma’s train.

“Christophe [Laporte] was supposed to do my leadout, but when Cavagna jumped, I was afraid I would be sprinting for second place, so I asked him to pull him back,” van Aert said.

“I knew where to position myself, and there were a few guys from Ineos and I could take their wheel. It was a choice in the last moment.”

Jumbo-Visma comes into this week’s Dauphiné as the five-star favorite.

Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard start as GC favorites, with Van Aert also a favorite to win Wednesday’s time trial as well as perhaps another stage.

“It already started well for me here with the win. I was hoping to get a stage victory this week, so get this already in the first stage is a good sign,” he said.

Van Aert will ride in yellow in Monday’s lumpy second stage, and could defend it all the way into the Alps before passing it off to teammate Roglič.

Or at least that would be the perfect script.

“Everyone on the team is feeling good and we are hoping to have a week, not only for the Tour de France, but also for the GC with Primož,” he said. “Tuesday is already a tricky stage, and then the TT in the mountains.”