Wout van Aert‘s decision to bypass this week’s Critérium du Dauphiné may prove the best “DNS” of his career.
Heading into a summer schedule set to include the Tour de France, Olympic Games, a challenge at the world championships, and Paris-Roubaix, a late training setback could see van Aert roaring into form right on time to score a rainbow jersey on home roads.
Van Aert scrapped his planned participation at the Dauphiné this week after surgery for appendicitis put his training on pause and left him scrambling for form through June. Like Jumbo-Visma teammate Primož Roglič, van Aert will not race before the Tour de France as the duo instead trains their way into race shape at a series of altitude camps.
With a three-month spell of top-tier targets ahead of him, van Aert was downbeat at his own form when speaking with Het Nieuwsblad recently.
“Our entire Tour team is in the Sierra Nevada and I am by far the weakest here,” Van Aert said last week.
“In principle, I can achieve a good level of form through training and altitude training, but it is uncertain what level I will be able to reach. Every day I’m trying to push my limits, without forcing it.”
The late-season is long for Van Aert this year, with the rescheduled Paris-Roubaix pushed all the way back to October 3. The problem for him is that there’s no room for a slow start.
Two punchy uphill finishes conclude the first two stages of Brittany’s Grand Départ of the Tour de France later this month. Van Aert’s dream of trading a yellow Jumbo-Visma jersey for the yellow of race-leader may have been torpedoed by his ailing appendix.
“The original plan was to get to my best form after the Dauphiné and be on top from the first Tour week,” he said. “I had made a big goal of the yellow jersey in the first week, I’m afraid this is no longer realistic.”
But a small setback now may pay dividends in the very near future.
A slow summer may serve for an awesome autumn
It has now been two months since van Aert pinned on a number before racing to glory at Amstel Gold, and he said he felt he had to totally “start from scratch” when he finally resumed training after his appendectomy.
But Jumbo-Visma brass obviously isn’t overly concerned about sending its top assets into competition cold. The team is so confident in its own intelligence that it plans to send Roglič to the Tour off the back of a three-month layoff.
Who needs racing anyway?
“We won’t mimic a Dauphiné by mimicking racing every day for eight days long [at training camps],” team coach Mathieu Heijboer told VeloNews last month.
“But the advantage of just doing training sessions instead of racing before the Tour is that we are able to control the volume and the intensity. We can pick very well the intensities that we want to hit, we avoid risks. It works.”
Rather than adding junk fatigue and the risk of crashing in eight days of the Dauphiné, Jumbo-Visma can focus on van Aert’s fitness to have him peak right when they want him to.
And the most likely result is that Wout’s motor will be running fine come June 26.
And if not, this year’s Grand Départ is far from van Aert’s one chance to realize his yellow jersey dream given the frequency of sprints and time trials that open the race.
A short, flat stage 1 time trial through Copenhagen next year hands van Aert a second chance at the very first opportunity, but his ambitious autumn may be a true once-in-a-lifetime opening.
After an underdog tilt at Olympic time trial gold, the cobbled world champs and rescheduled Paris-Roubaix are the true jewels in van Aert’s far-reaching season.
Earlier this year, van Aert said that the Flanders worlds are his be-all for 2021, where a Ronde-esque route offers him a unique opportunity to take the rainbow jersey on home roads. And falling just one week after the worlds, the pavé of an October Paris-Roubaix marks the opportunity for the 26-year-old to finish his season with a potentially palmarès topping double.
Also read: Van Aert eyes rainbow jersey on home roads
If anything, bypassing the Dauphiné may be a blessing in disguise.
A clear run into the Tour on fresh legs should leave him the final drops of gas in the tank he needs for his cobbled autumn – and he knows it.
“I’m sure I’ll be top after the Tour,” he said “I am not at all worried about Tokyo and the autumn, with the world championships and Paris-Roubaix.”
Rumors of Laporte’s arrival cements van Aert’s slot at the center of the team
However van Aert’s stacked summer pans out, it’s clear that his position at the center of Jumbo-Visma alongside Roglič and Tom Dumoulin isn’t under any pressure.
Recent rumors have linked promising puncheur and cobbles-basher Christophe Laporte to Jumbo-Visma for 2022, an arrival signposting both the team’s growing ambition but also its dedication to van Aert. Dutch outlet Wielierflits reported this week that the Frenchman would come on board in 2022 to act as a key wingman for van Aert in the classics.
When the Belgian signed his three-year contract extension earlier this year, Jumbo-Visma promised him fresh artillery to add heft to his classics ambitions. A Laporte-shaped superdomestique would see them coming good on that promise.
Will Wout come away with a yellow jersey, Olympic medal, world title, and Roubaix victory some four months from now?
Any or all of them are a big possibility.
But either way, van Aert isn’t going to be out of the headlines for some time yet.