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Wout van Aert on season debut at Strade Bianche: ‘I think I’m ready’

Jumbo-Visma star races for the first time in 2021 in much anticipated duel with Mathieu van der Poel and world champion Julian Alaphilippe over white roads of Tuscany.

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Wout van Aert has been camped out on the top of the Teide volcano for nearly three weeks. On Thursday, he and his Jumbo-Visma teammates previewed what lies ahead in Saturday’s Strade Bianche.

Just hours ahead of his highly anticipated clash with Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe, van Aert was sounding relaxed and confident.

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“I think I [came out] well of altitude training. I feel good. Especially the last week at altitude I was able to make a nice step,” van Aert said Thursday. “I think I’m ready.”

While most of his direct rivals have raced, and in some cases won, already in 2021, van Aert will see his first taste of live competition Saturday as he lines up as defending champion.

Van Aert said he’s expecting a big battle across the white roads of Tuscany, and insisted it’s not a three-rider race.

“Alaphilippe and van der Poel are two guys you definitely have to keep an eye on, but there are a lot more strong riders in this race than in the opening weekend,” he said. “It’s one of the strongest fields we’ve seen over the years so I think it’s wise to keep an eye on more guys.

“It’s probably the strongest field in a one-day race,” he continued. “Traditionally there are a lot of climbers in this race. Guys like Fuglsang and Pogačar now. I think that is very nice. It shows how much importance this race has.”

Wout Van Aert, Greg Van Avermaet, and Max Schachmann at the 2020 Strade Bianche. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Forecasters are calling for a chance of rain Saturday and cooler temperatures, something van Aert said will be welcomed after the pack raced through summer conditions when Strade Bianche was rescheduled for August last year.

“The condition of the gravel roads is good,” he said. “I think they are a little better than last summer. A bit smoother. There were a lot more potholes then. Now there still are, but it’s okay. If it stays as dry as it is now, it is still treacherous. This morning there was a bit of rain. It will depend a bit on whether or not the dust will be gone.”

Of course, if you’re at the front of the race, you won’t be choking on anyone’s dust. And that’s where van Aert hopes he will be once the action kicks off.