Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) makes his 2022 road season debut at Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but the versatile Belgian isn’t putting too much pressure on his shoulders as he eases himself back into action.
Van Aert, who hasn’t raced on the road since picking up seventh in last autumn’s Paris-Roubaix, will line up with new teammates Tiesj Benoot and Tosh van der Sande, and the primary aim will be to gain experience as a racing unit ahead of bigger and more important goals that come later in the spring campaign.
Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are among van Aert’s biggest targets this spring.
“A lot depends on the course. If we race like last year and a large group goes to the finish, we have chances,” he told WielerFlits when asked about this weekend’s objective and his chances.
“My goals are later. I have opted for a broader base, in the hope that after the first races there will be some explosiveness, so that I will be at my best against Milan-San Remo.”
Without any road racing in his legs, van Aert believes that riders who have taken part in events like Ruta del Sol and the Volta ao Algarve will have a natural advantage over him.
Whether he’s in flying form or not, van Aert wants to use this weekend’s event as a “test” and an opportunity to gel as a squad. Jumbo-Visma made several high profile signings over the winter as they looked to bolster their support for van Aert.
“Guys who already have two smaller stage races in their legs will have a little advantage in the opening weekend, I think. The effect of our altitude internship comes a little later and should give us that little bit extra later. The Omloop is more of a test for us to see how we can race together,” the Belgian told the Dutch website.
“Of course we want to achieve a result. We start with ambition, but absolutely not with the knife on the throat that it should immediately be bingo,” he added.
“Omloop is also a special race. Last year a large group rode to the finish. If that is also the case this year, then I assume that we will still be there with a number of guys and we will still be able to take a shot at winning. If it turns into a battlefield, we might be just that little bit short.”
After finishing a recent training camp in Tenerife, the former Milan-San Remo winner explained that the classics core at Jumbo-Visma had started to gel, and that talent had meshed with unity, both on and off the bike.
“It should no longer be the intention that I am alone in the run-up to the final. I believe that will no longer be the case. In recent weeks, work has not only been done on, but also off the bike. We now form a close-knit group, tactics have been thought through, matches from previous years have been reviewed and analysed. It is more than attracting a few good riders.”
Van Aert’s last outing in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad came in 2020, when he was 11th.