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Wout van Aert has his sights set on gold and rainbow stripes in 2021.
On Sunday van Aert outlined his 2021 racing goals in an interview with Belgian site rtbf.be, and there are two events atop his ambitions for the season: the Olympic individual time trial in Japan, and the UCI world road championships in Belgium.
The latter race — held on familiar roads in Flanders — is van Aert’s dream victory.
“I have three periods where I want to be in my best shape. But if I have to choose one goal over another, I would say the world championships in Belgium in Leuven,” van Aert said. “I think it’s a classic course with small hills and cobblestones. So there are possibilities for me. But I also want to win a classic in the spring. And after doing a good Tour de France with the team. I think those are three big goals but if I have to choose, I would say the world championships in Belgium.”
Van Aert collected silver medals at the 2020 UCI world road championships in Italy in both the road race and the individual time trial. The results speak to the Belgian’s versatility as a classics rider, sprinter, and individual time trialist. For 2021, he’s hoping to transform those second place finishes into victories.
The Olympics road race in Tokyo boasts a challenging route with several ascents of a long, sustained climb. Van Aert said he may skip the road race there to focus entirely on the individual time trial, where he is likely to battle with current world champion Filippo Ganna of Italy and countryman Remco Evenepoel.
The focus on the Olympics puts a strain on van Aert’s Tour de France ambitions, due to the tight turnaround between the two races. Van Aert hinted that a run at the Tour’s green jersey could be a goal for the future and not this season.
“I think I will line up for the Olympics in the time trial rather than in the road race,” van Aert said. “The course is very hard. So I think the time trial is my best chance to win a medal. The games is something unique. The green jersey too, but next year there will be another green jersey. ”
With these major objectives falling later in the season, van Aert has decided to delay the start for his season. He will skip the opening Classics races Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kurrne in favor of training. Van Aert just recently stopped his 2021 cyclocross campaign with a silver medal at the UCI cyclocross world championships, and the tight turnaround to the start of the classics season made it logical to skip the opening races, he said.
“With the cyclocross season, it was only possible to start the altitude training course last week and the best is to do it three weeks and it is only possible by missing the opening weekend in not doing Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne,” van Aert said. “For a Flemish [rider], it is a difficult decision but for a sportsman it is the best decision.”
Instead, van Aert will make his road debut at Strade Bianche in Italy — the race he won in 2020 to kick off his amazing run of victories. Van Aert will then participate in Milano-Sanremo, which he won in a two-up spring with Julian Alaphilippe in 2020.
Van Aert has raced Strade Bianche three times. He’s stood on the podium in all three editions.
“I think with the confinement last year I won the Strade with only training and no races. So I’m confident to try to do the same this year,” he said. “This a great race to start his season. It’s the perfect mix between a classic course and small mountains. It’s very hard and with the gravel sectors it’s a good combination between technique and strength. The first time I did this race I was motivated but I was not at all prepared. I made a third place straight away so it became one of the best races for me. It was a great emotion. It was my first great performance in the World Tour.”
Winning a monument, an Olympic medal, and a world title would undoubtedly boost van Aert’s star even higher in the WorldTour peloton. Given his versatility, it’s not an impossible goal by any means. Van Aert said that targeting a mix of cyclocross, monuments, time trials, and sprints is simply part of his plan to have a unique career.
“My motivation is to try to do something unique. It was also my motivation when I won three world championship titles in cyclocross,” van Aert said. “It was possible to stay my whole career in cyclocross but the goal was to try to go on the road. I think it was a good decision. I always want to try something new. Winning a race five times doesn’t interest me much. Pushing back my limits, it’s much more interesting. “