Belgian Wout van Aert has been on fire in the first week of the Tour de France winning two stages including Saturday’s sprint finale in Lausanne, finishing second three times and buildng up a seemingly unassailable lead in the sprint points race. The 27-year-old world ranked No1 individual one-day racer, is unlikely to ever win the overall competition at the Tour de France due to his powerful 6ft 3in frame, but he did claim top spot on the Tour de France rankings this week too.
“It’s a mythical thing, but I believe I deserve it,” said the Jumbo-Visma rider after pulling on his first-place overall yellow jersey in the opening stages in Denmark. He then proceeded to defy logic on stage four with an individual breakaway that gave him a stage win at Calais. He delivered another breakaway though his homeland, parading the yellow jersey, before giving it up to concentrate on the green.
“I wanted to give my fans something to remember,” he said.
Alongside Slovenian two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar, Van Aert has been the standout rider thusfar of the 2022 Tour. He joined road cycling late after taking three consecutive world championships titles at cyclo-cross from 2016 to 2018.
“When I was young I didn’t much think about road racing, bunch sprints were boring for me,” he admitted after Saturday’s impressive win ahead of Michael Matthews and Pogacar.
“I only started to like sprints when I got into the mix myself.”
He joined Jumbo-Visma in 2018 and has been a key man ever since winning the Milan San Remo monument and Olympic and world championship silver medals.
‘Gave me wings’
Disaster struck when he broke his thigh at the 2019 Tour’s time-trial, but Van Aert has extraordinary willpower.
“There’s always another day,” he insisted after coming second three times on the first three stages on this Tour in Denmark.
“When you come second there is a reason.
“It’s never easy to win a bike race, and it’s never easy to win a Tour de France stage and never will be,” he said on Saturday.
“I have done four Tour de France starts now, and have always managed to win at least a stage.
“He was on fire on the 2021 Tour too, winning three iconic stages.First he triumphed in the summit finish on Mont Ventoux, then took a second win on the time-trial through the Bordeaux vineyards and rounded it off in
style with victory on the Champs Elysees, where he denied British great Mark Cavendish a record 35th stage win.
In 2022, he has taken things a step further, claiming the yellow jersey thanks to his three runners-up spots in Denmark before rampaging to his first stage win of the 2022 Tour at Calais. Launching a late attack on a climb from Dunkirk to Calais he powered over the final 8km at breathtaking speed, winning with the yellow jersey on his back.
“The jersey gave me wings,” he explained.
His stunning display even earned the praise of Pogacar. “He just blew us all away,” said the Slovenian.
RBA/AFP Photos: Sprint Cycling Agency