Wout van Aert will not be racing Sunday's Tour of Flanders, he confirmed in a video message posted by his Jumbo-Visma team on Friday. The Belgian has tested positive for COVID-19.
The news follows Thursday's announcement by Jumbo-Visma that Van Aert, who was the race favourite, had missed the team recon of the Tour of Flanders course due to an unspecified illness and was "unlikely" to line up at the Ronde.
"Hello everyone, a short message from me to everyone. It was two hectic days. I can announce that I won't be at the start of the Tour of Flanders this Sunday," Van Aert said.
"Yesterday morning, I woke up with a sore threat. Two quick tests proved I tested positive for COVID-19. Two PCR tests confirmed it, so there is no change for me to be at the start.
"The good news is that I only have mild symptoms, a sore throat and a mild cold. It strengthens my hope that I will recover and get back into action soon."
Van Aert added that he doesn't know where he caught the virus, having put in a lot of effort, as everyone in the pro peloton has, to avoid it.
"It's a mystery where I've picked up this infection I've put in a lot of effort to avoid over the past two years, particularly in the last weeks and months. Of course, we were exposed before, during and after races, like last weekend. Evidently I can't control it. It catches me at the worst possible moment.
"I will focus on my further recovery in the upcoming days before I think about the future again. On Sunday, I will be the biggest fan of my teammates during 'De Hoogmis'.
"Thanks to everyone for the big support message the last few days. Reading them gave me a lot of pleasure. That's why I thought it was important to hear from me. And hopefully I will see you soon."
Team directeur sportif Arthur Van Dongen confirmed Van Aert's absence from the race, noting that the 27-year-old wasn't very ill but still wouldn't be able to race regardless.
"Examinations have confirmed that Wout is not fit," he said. "He is not very sick but not competitive enough to start in the Tour of Flanders. He now has to take a break and then we will set new goals.
"It's unfortunate for Wout but certainly for Belgium and the team. Knowing Wout, he will come back stronger than ever. We will sit down with the team, make a new plan and discuss how we can win the Ronde with the new team composition."
Fellow team DS Grischa Niermann had said on Thursday that Van Aert, who so far this Classics season has won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, was not feeling fully fit, but didn't disclose any further details on Van Aert's condition at the time.
In Van Aert's absence, the team is set to look towards Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot for leadership. The new signings have impressed this spring, with Laporte having finished runner-up at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and at Gent-Wevelgem, and Benoot doing the same at Dwars door Vlaanderen.
"It's difficult in this situation, not knowing if he’ll be there or not," Laporte said at the team's press conference earlier on Friday. "In any case, we’ll be there on Sunday to do as well as possible with the team.
"For a rider like Tiesj or me, it's harder to win without Wout. He contributes a lot to the team anyway, but we can still ride a nice race. Tiesj already proved that in Dwars Door Vlaanderen."
Benoot said he was still confident in his "strong team" and noted that everyone who will be lining up on Sunday – neo-pro Mick van Dijke is set to take Van Aert's place – is motivated for the challenge.
"The atmosphere was excellent over the past few weeks. We already had a good meeting. Then this news came. But everyone is still very motivated. It is a race we have been looking forward to for a long time. This situation is out of our control, so we have to let go of that quickly now."
Van Aert joins a growing list of big-name absences for Sunday's race. Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), and Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost) had already withdrawn from competition due to illness.
Earlier on Friday, Israel-Premier Tech announced the team's withdrawal from the race, following two COVID-19 tests and numerous illnesses and injuries among the team. The decision means that Sep Vanmarcke will also not be racing.
🇧🇪 #RVV22 Wout van Aert has to forfeit for the Ronde. pic.twitter.com/krw9FXi8xUApril 1, 2022
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
The latest race content, interviews, features, reviews and expert buying guides, direct to your inbox!
Thank you for signing up to Cyclingnews. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.