A silver medal at the 2020 World Championships individual time trial behind Filippo Ganna (Italy). A silver medal behind Julian Alaphippe (France) at the 2020 World Championships road race. Yet another silver medal at the Olympic Games road race behind Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) in Tokyo last month. One will understand why Belgium’s Wout van Aert wasn’t overly excited about his silver medal in the time trial at the 2021 Worlds on home soil.
“It’s yet another silver medal at the big championships. That’s disappointing,” Van Aert concluded.
He finished as runner-up behind defending champion Ganna, again, in Sunday’s 43.3km individual time trial from coastal town Knokke-Heist to Bruges. At the post-race press conference in Bruges’ concert hall, Van Aert flanked Ganna on the stage just like he did on the podium a few minutes earlier.
“I feel a bit disappointed but not really about my performance. I’m happy about how it went. I didn’t make mistakes. I was beaten by a strong guy, someone who’s much more of a pure time trial specialist. I have to accept it,” Van Aert said.
In the Sporza studio, Van Aert had summed it up this way: “Rationally, I should be content with my performance. Losing only five seconds on Ganna is top. At home I will be checking where I lost those seconds, but maybe that’s not the best thing to do right now.”
Van Aert picked out a few moments which might have been key in winning or losing time. Shortly after the first intermediate point the hunt for the rainbow title was nearly over when his rear wheel slipped away in the left-hand corner. “I nearly crashed. I started kicking the pedals too early because I knew it would be a matter of seconds,” he said.
At that first intermediate point, Van Aert learned that he enjoyed an advantage of seven seconds on Ganna. But during the second section, Ganna wiped away six seconds of his deficit and the team car informed Van Aert about those time gaps.
“I always like to have the right information from the intermediates. You know before the race that it’s not going to be a walk in the park so I didn’t panic when I learned that he was gaining back time,” Van Aert said.
When passing by Damme, a small medieval city, the two riders rode in the exact same time. The final section from Damme to Bruges would decide who would get to wear the rainbow jersey next year.
“It was hard to go to the line. After the cobbles in Damme I wanted to go full gas and up the pace even more but I was unable to go faster. Filippo probably made the difference there. You know before the race it’s going to be a close call,” Van Aert said. At the finish line, Van Aert ended up losing six seconds on the Italian winner.
During the individual time trial Van Aert was delighted to see thick crowds along the course in a race that served as appetizer for the next two major races: the World Championships road race and the rescheduled edition of Paris-Roubaix.
“I’ve got super confidence for next week. It was a good move from the organisation to start with the elite men’s time trial. It’s a good kick-off for the Worlds. We’re headed back to normal life,” Van Aert said, indicating that the Flanders region in Belgium clearly entered back into a cycling-crazy modus.
“The Belgian crowd was fantastic. I really enjoyed it today. If this was a rehearsal for next week – which it wasn’t, because it was too important – then it’s very promising. It was splendid to ride through so many people at the side of the roads in a time trial, that’s something I’ve never seen in a time trial. It reminded me of the packed crowds at the biggest cyclo-cross races. It was an extra motivation during the time trial.”
From here, the 27 year-old Belgian rider will be preparing for next week’s road race and then Paris-Roubaix one week later. As he described the plans for the upcoming week, it was clear that the hard work has been done already.
“Tomorrow there’ll be a long easy training followed by two days of recovery. On Thursday it’ll be a training ride to work on the accents.”
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