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Wout van Aert made some big decisions this winter, and he hopes they pay off.
The Belgian star is set to miss the cyclocross world championships for the first time since stepping into the elite ranks. He will also skip Strade Bianche in March to give him a less intensive start to his 2022 road campaign.
Van Aert is dominating the cyclocross season so far, but he confirmed last week that he wouldn’t be heading to Fayetteville for the worlds. Speaking at Jumbo-Visma’s team launch, he said he hopes the decision to trim his race program will help him deliver at two of his favorite races.
“That was certainly difficult,” van Aert told Dutch website Wielerflits of the decision to drop the CX worlds and Strade Bianche from his program. “I hope it pays off in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. I go for those two monuments.
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“I know this is a statement that I can be judged harshly on afterward but having a vision and daring to choose certain goals is something I fully support,” he said. “I hope this can give me that extra percentage in those races.”
Van Aert has finished in the top 10 three times at De Ronde and came close to victory in 2020, only to be beaten by his long-time rival Mathieu van der Poel in a thrilling finale. He looked strong in this year’s race but didn’t have the legs to follow the key split when it happened and rode into sixth place.
After enduring a series of crashes at the 2019 Paris-Roubaix, van Aert took his best finish at the French monument with seventh this year. He wants more, though. With the changes to his calendar, van Aert wants to start peaking at Milano-Sanremo on March 19 and carry that through the remainder of the classics.
“In recent years I always felt that I was in better shape at the beginning of my spring than at the end of the classic period,” he explained. “I recovered just a little less quickly from an effort. That is why we have now opted for a longer preparation, without the cyclocross world championships. In this way, we hope that my base will become a little wider.
“Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Paris-Nice are my first races, but I use them both as preparation races. I think I should ride the Strade Bianche when I want, and I can compete for the win. That is not a race to sharpen the condition. Now Milano-Sanremo is the first race where I really hope to be in top form at the start.”
A stronger line-up
It’s not just calendar changes that Jumbo-Visma hopes will bolster van Aert’s chances of success at the classics this spring. The team has also signed a string of riders to boost its line-up. Tiesj Benoot, Tosh van der Sande, and Christophe Laporte are on the roster for 2022 and will join the likes of Mike Teunissen, Timo Roosen, and Edoardo Affini.
Van Aert hopes that the signings will see him take more support into key race moments and give himself and the team more options.
“With the arrival of that trio we have greatly strengthened our core for the classics. In recent years, with a few exceptions, I was almost always alone in the finals,” he said. “With the quality we now have in-house, we certainly have to go into the final with three or four guys. That difference can have a huge influence on the course of the race.”
Jumbo-Visma will have one of the strongest classics squads in the bunch in 2022, alongside the likes of Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.
Van Aert says that while it won’t take a carbon copy approach to the Belgian team, there is plenty to learn from its tactics.
“I don’t think our ambition should be to copy Quick-Step or to be as strong. Our goal should be to win races,” he said. “I think we can learn from Quick-Step’s tactical approach to the race that it is not predetermined in advance who should win the race. I will be the spearhead at Jumbo-Visma in the Flemish classics, but I now have a number of guys next to me who can also finish it. That should be one of the strengths of our team.”