Feature: Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma)

No cyclocross World championships, no Strade Bianche and no overall classification aims in Paris-Nice; Wout van Aert has learned to make choices in order to have a greater chance of realising his most important goals

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Feature: Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma)

Measured Programme for Wout van Aert on the road: No cyclocross World championships, no Strade Bianche and no overall classification in Paris-Nice. Wout van Aert has learned to make choices in order to have a greater chance of realising his most important goals. The Belgian champion does not hide his ambitions at the Jumbo-Visma team presentation in Alicante, which was broadcast live by WielerFlits. Winning the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix are his great ambitions for the spring of 2022.

Q: Why not start this year in the Strade Bianche, where your worst performance in the past four years was fourth place?
Wout: “In recent years I always felt that I was in better shape at the beginning of my spring than at the end of the classic period. I recovered just a little less quickly from an effort. That is why we have now opted for a longer preparation, without the World Championship Cyclo-cross. In this way, we hope that my base will become a little bigger. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Paris-Nice are my first races, but I use them both as preparation races. I think I should only ride Strade Bianche when I can compete for the win. It is not a course to help sharpen the condition. So now Milan-Sanremo is the first race where I really hope to be in top form at the start.”

Q: So you make more targeted choices towards the spring. Does that also have to do with your age, now 27 years, that you have to work more towards your goals?
Wout: “I am known as someone who wants a lot. My season is always filled with a lot of big goals. The lesson from 2021 is that at some of my key targets, the hunger and mental freshness were a bit gone or over the peak. By choosing something more focused, we now want to ensure that I have that great feeling more at the right moments.”

Q: How difficult was it for you to remove the Cyclo-cross World Championships and the Strade Bianche from your program?
Wout: “That was certainly difficult. I hope it pays off in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. I go for those two monuments. I know that this is a statement that I can be judged harshly on afterwards. But having a vision and daring to choose certain goals is something I fully support. I hope this can give me that extra few percentage in those events.”

Q: Another choice: Last year in the Tirreno you wanted to see how far you came in the standings. The second place behind Tadej Pogacar emphasized that you also have qualities for that. Yet we don’t hear from you about that anymore?
Wout: “I don’t think that choice was a failure. However, we have also realized that mid-March is not the right time in the season to go for a GC ranking. In the spring, I want to keep going for the classics in the coming years. Still, I want to take that experience with me to other stage races such as the Dauphiné or the Benelux Tour in the future. Riding for a general classification is something that I definitely want to pick up again at another point in the season.”

Q: You say mental. So physically it didn’t play like that?
Wout: “Yes, physically too. But if you look back at the World Championships (road) in Leuven and Paris-Roubaix in the autumn of 2021, I was in top shape physically. But in other areas I couldn’t get the most out of it and that was probably because I was mentally exhausted.”

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Q: With Tiesj Benoot, Christophe Laporte and Tosh van der Sande, three serious reinforcements having been brought in to surround you in the spring. How big is that difference?
Wout: “I think that with the arrival of that trio we have greatly strengthened our core for the classics. In recent years, with a few exceptions, I was almost always alone in the finals. With the quality we now have in house, we certainly have to go into the final with three or four guys. That difference can have a huge influence on the course of the game.”

Q: Does attracting three such appealing riders who hope to support you in the classics put a certain pressure on you?
Wout: “No, that just gives me more confidence. I’m already being paid and treated like a leader, so I’m racing to win races. One of the things I expect from the team is that they surround me as best as possible. They have now. It is something that I have actually spoken to Merijn Zeeman (Jumbo-Visma sporting director, ed.) from the start that I have been at Jumbo-Visma. I also felt that our preparation for the Classics was definitely not at the level of how the team is working towards the Tour de France. That is something that is now being addressed. The importance of the classics takes it to a higher level.”

Q: In what way do you see that there is already more of a focus on the classics at this stage of the season?
Wout: “We have already started exploring classics in the winter and have already spent a few days together with the guys who are the racing for the spring. In this way we try to create a more group atmosphere. Also on an training camp to Tenerife this year we will go with a wider selection for the classics than in previous years. The team is just paying a little more attention to all aspects towards the classics.”

Q: Are you now strong enough in depth to compete with Quick-Step-Alpha Vinyl’s ‘The Wolfpack’ in the cobblestone races?
Wout: “I don’t think our ambition should be to copy Quick-Step or to be as strong. Our goal should be to win races. I think we can learn from Quick-Step’s tactical approach to the race. That it is not predetermined in advance who should win the match. I will be the spearhead at Jumbo-Visma in the Flemish classics, but I now have a number of guys next to me who can also finish it off. That should be one of the strengths of our team.”

Q: Are you personally also working on creating a homogeneous team for the classics?
Wout: “Yes, I think it also comes with my age that I realise how more important it is that I also work on the team around me as a leader. It’s not just that the hierarchy is on paper and then you hope that everyone is doing their best. You have to try to get everyone to believe in the big goal that we are going to win those important races. That means you start talking to the guys a little more often and pay more attention to the little things. You try to do more than just focus on your own process.

SOURCE: https://www.wielerflits.nl/nieuws/wout-van-aert-durft-keuzes-te-maken-richting-vlaanderen-en-roubaix/

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