In November, the Belgian media was asking 'What's up with Wout Van Aert?'. Fast forward to Easter 2018 and the Belgian triple 'cross world champion will line out for his debut Tour of Flanders as an outside favourite for victory.
After a lacklustre start to the 'cross season, Wout Van Aert re-found his winning legs to claim a third straight rainbow jersey. The 23-year-old carried his form into his first road classics season with Vérandas Willems-Crelan and placed 32nd at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. His third place at Strade Bianche a week later confirmed his road potential.
Van Aert has continued to be a presence in the classics, building for the crescendo of Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
"I'm in the best shape I can be. I'm really looking forward to my first Tour of Flanders. But I don't consider myself a favourite," Van Aert said ahead of the Belgian monument which he'll start with "stiff" neck and shoulders following a crash at Dwars door Vlaanderen
Earlier in the month, Van Aert reconned the Tour of Flanders course, describing to Sporza the parcours as "a lot trickier" than other classics he'd ridden but confident of a top-ten result. Across his opening seven one-day races of the season, Van Aert has become a future classics star in the making even though he is yet to start a monument.
"It is nice to read that big riders from the past and present give me compliments, which shows that the choice to ride the classics was not a stupid thought, but that these races really suit me," he told Sporza. "I still feel good physically. But I'm looking forward to Roubaix, because after that a rest period follows."
Van Aert's performances and results also haven't gone unnoticed by team managers, director sportifs and team scouts. Despite admitting that he doesn't "read a lot of newspapers and watch much TV", Van Aert explained he is aware of the interest in his signature from all 18 WorldTour teams.
"After my performance that is a logical consequence," he said. "I have already proven this season that the combination of riding cyclo-cross and the classics is a better possibility than many people had thought beforehand. For the time being, I am not busy with a definite transfer to the road."
A decision on his future, Van Aert is contracted with Verandas through to the end of 2019, will be taken after Paris-Roubaix. That decision could be made a week early should Van Aert stamp his authority on the Tour of Flanders with an expectant Belgian public watching on.
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