Wout van Aert played domestique for Primož Roglič through the summer. And the Belgian superstar is prepared to sacrifice his own ambitions in the service of others at the Toyko Olympics, too.
The Belgian team for the hilly Olympic road race will be bristling with talent, with Van Aert and returning hotshot Remco Evenepoel likely to be top of the start list. Though the tough hilly parcours for Tokyo plays into both of their skillsets, the Jumbo-Visma man is happy to play domestique once again.
“I have studied the road race course and it looks very difficult,” van Aert told Humo.” At first sight, it seems more suited to Remco. But it’s a one-day race and you can always give a bit more than when the climbs are in a grand tour … But if Remco is played out as the spearhead of the Belgian team, I will certainly put myself at his service. I have already shown that I am not averse to helping someone.”
Nothing is certain for Evenepoel, however, as he continues his recovery from his horrific spill during Il Lombardia in September.
Van Aert proved in a stellar 2020 season that he can do it all, whether winning bunch sprints, hilly classics, or even shredding the bunch for Roglič in a grand tour mountain stage. Van Aert is now knee-deep in another of his specialties – doing battle with long-time rival Mathieu van der Poel in the muck of the winter ‘cross season.
Though van Aert has more than proven he’s not taking his foot off the accelerator with two CX wins so far this winter, he suggested that cyclocross is diminishing in importance as his ambitions on the tarmac continue to escalate.
“I never go to the start to be beaten, not even in cyclocross, and it is still my ambition to make it as difficult as possible for Mathieu. But I have come to view cyclocross differently: not as a snack, but as less important than the new road season,” he said. “The cyclocross world championships are a target at the end of January, but now I’d more easily lose a ‘cross than the Tour of Flanders.”
Van Aert was pipped to the line by van der Poel in Oudenaarde this fall, a photo finish that marked the similarity between cycling’s two bone fide all-terrain vehicles.
However, van Aert would prefer the constant comparison to end there as the pair’s focuses and ambitions pivot away from an all-out ‘cross focus. While van Aert will be in the Jumbo-Visma engine room at the Tour de France before racing on the road at Tokyo, his Dutch counterpart will be hunting stages with Alpecin-Fenix before targeting the Olympic mountain bike race.
“Now, it’s not always fun to be constantly compared,” van Aert said. “But the trick is not to put too much worry into it. I can manage that.”