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Wout van Aert leaves Canada with rainbow jersey confidence intact

Van Aert on sharing leadership with Evenepoel: 'We have a strong team and it’s a big advantage that we have two cards to play.'

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MONTREAL (VN) — Wout van Aert left Canada without a victory but remains confident he will have the legs to win the UCI Road World Championships.

The Belgian brawler was stymied Sunday against a cagey Tadej Pogačar who denied him victory at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal just days after a rare misfire saw him kick to fourth in Québec.

Montréal’s climbs are longer and steeper than what he’ll be facing in Wollongong, so Van Aert preferred to take the long view.

“I think the legs are turning well,” Van Aert said Sunday. “The race was really hard, the climb in Wollongong is a bit shorter, especially on the local final circuit.

“Sunday on the long climb was something to survive. I made it over but I also killed myself there,” he said. “Then in the sprint Tadej was stronger.”

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Fourth in Québec and second in Montréal would be enough to celebrate for most riders, especially if that rider would be from one of the teams who were on the edge of relegation.

But for Van Aert, who is hot off winning the green jersey and three stages at the Tour de France en route to helping teammate Jonas Vingegaard win the yellow jersey, the only thing that counts is victory.

On Sunday, Pogačar played it smart and edged Van Aert for the win.

“It’s a really hard finish, it flattens a little bit towards the line but there’s a really steep 50 meters,” Van Aert said. “[David] Gaudu launched it early and I was on the wheel of Tadej, and that was the goal for the sprint.

“But in the moment when I was supposed to pass him, I didn’t have anything left and then I had to use a bike throw to beat [Andrea] Bagioli for second place.”

Even without the win, Van Aert preferred to see the glass as half full after coming out of Canada.

In just four days of racing before traveling to Australia for the men’s road race on September 25, Van Aert won at the Bretagne Classic-Ouest France, was second at the BEMER Cyclassics and at Montréal, and fourth at Québec on Friday.

“I really like these races, and I think it’s a nice format to have the circuits. We don’t do that much in the classics but for some races it’s nice to have,” he said.

“There were also two different races, in Montréal there are longer climbs, while Quebec is more of an explosive race.”

Van Aert gives thanks to Tobias Foss

Van Aert confirmed again he will not race the time trial in Wollongong. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Van Aert shrugged off a question about how everyone seemed to be racing with one eye on his Jumbo-Visma jersey.

Van Aert is the favorite in any race he starts, and he’s used to handling the pressure and responsibility that comes with it.

“That’s not different from any other race I did this year,” he said. “It’s always the way you go into races. There are advantages and disadvantages when you’re a favourite. I’m actually super proud of how we rode.

“Everyone was very strong. I want to say a special word for Tobias Foss,” he said “He worked hard in Québec and had a difficult year but he showed that he has huge talent and he really controlled into the deep final which was good for me.”

Van Aert confident in Belgian squad: ‘We have a strong team’

The favorites break down the race at the finish. (Photo: James Startt/GPDQM)

In Canada he was racing with the familiar faces at Jumbo-Visma.

In Australia, he will be joined by his Belgian national team members, including Vuelta a España winner Remco Evenepoel.

The team will work out strategy in the coming days, with Evenepoel and van Aert sharing leadership duties.

“I’m confident we have a strong team and it’s a big advantage that we have two cards to play,” Van Aert said.

“It depends on how the race looks then. If it’s a small group like today, then there’s probably only me and Remco able to be there,” he said. “If it’s a bigger group, we have a strong team and can be there with other guys.”

Van Aert took a flight Monday to Australia. He confirmed (again) he won’t be racing the time trial.

It’s all in for the rainbow. That’s when being first will really count.