Wout van Aert ‘continues to amaze’ as he competes against former Tour de France winners
Wout van Aert “continues to amaze” as he has held is own against multiple Tour de France champions in Tirreno-Adriatico.
The Belgian has conceded that he can no longer close the gap to current leader Tadej Pogačar with two stages remaining, but his impressive performance on general classification may be a sign of things to come.
Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) started Tirreno-Adriatico with the intention of going for the overall classification as he looks to potentially change his future aims.
Despite his reputation as a cyclocross star, a Classics specialist and now a formidable sprinter, Van Aert has been holding his own against former Tour de France winners Pogačar, Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers).
The star rider started well sits with victory on the opening stage and is second overall at the start of stage six, but is more than a minute behind Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) after a huge attack by the Slovenian on stage five.
Speaking after the fifth stage Van Aert said: “It was really hard once we hit the final circuit, especially with the rain, it was a bit like the ‘survival of the fittest’… In the last climb, Tadej [Pogačar] was stronger on the climbs, I tried to stay as close as possible.
“I think I lost quite a bit of time again, but I’m secure in second place. I gave everything I had and the strongest came in front today.”
Van Aert now sits at 1-15 behind Pogačar in second overall in the general classification with a flat stage and a short time trial left to race.
While Van Aert has shown he could win both he doesn’t think he can pull back the Slovenian: “It’s no shame to be beaten by Tadej uphill. I’m not going to make up the difference of 1-15 in a possible sprint on Monday and a short time trial on Tuesday. The next two days I can still go for stage wins. I still have the motivation for that.”
Coming into Tirreno-Adriatico Van Aert’s team, Jumbo-Visma, were interested to see how he did as a GC rider, with sports director Merijn Zeeman saying that the team were curious as to how he does.
Zeeman said on the In Het Wiel podcast that the team was not expecting Van Aert to achieve a podium with the line-up that he was up against in the race: “We had included Tirreno-Adriatico in his program to let him gain experience as a classification rider, to see how far he can get. But with this course and that field of participants, we never expected to compete for the podium. In the future, now that it is clear that Wout can participate in stage races of up to a week for an overall win, we will take this into account even more in the composition.”
But Zeeman said that Van Aert will continue to focus on races like Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix for now before potentially focussing on Grand Tours in the future, much like what Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) did after taking the Classic E3 Harelbeke and later going on to win the Tour de France.
Zeeman continued: “How far can he get in a Grand Tour? I’m not going to venture into that. Wout is an extremely great talent and he continues to amaze us in all areas, like this week in which he still competes against three Tour winners, among others.
“Where he can end up will depend on the course. In a Grand Tour with a lot of time trial kilometres he will gain more advantage than in a Grand Tour with a lot of steep cols.”