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Tokyo Olympics: Wout Van Aert shrugs off the target on his back

Tour de France 2021 - 108th Edition - 11th stage Sorgues - Malaucene 198,9 km - 07/07/2021 - Wout Van Aert (BEL - Jumbo - Visma) - photo Tim Van Wichelen/CV/BettiniPhoto©2021
Wout van Aert riding to victory on Mont Ventoux at the Tour de France (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Wout van Aert has looked to dismiss the favourite tag and the pressure that undoubtedly surrounds him ahead of the Tokyo Olympics road race and time trial after his incredible Tour de France.

The Belgian won three stages in all during the Tour – a mountain stage that climbed Mont Ventoux twice; the second individual time trial; and then the final sprint stage on the Champs-Elysées.

Although the Belgian is leading his nation into the road race alongside Remco Evenepoel and can count on defending champion Greg Van Avermaet for support, it's the Jumbo-Visma rider who is listed by many of his competitors for Saturday's road race as the rider to beat.

"I think for the road race maybe they'll look at me a bit more than before, but I was already ambitious and people were already looking at me," Van Aert recently told Cyclingnews.

"At all the races I do in the year I'm one of the favourites, so this doesn't make a big difference. Obviously, Remco and I are the leaders of the team and we're both really ambitious for the time trial and the road race.

"Looking at the course for the road it's going to be really hard with the climbs and for me it will be important to try and come over the climb and hang on. For Remco, who is the better climber, it will be more of a climb to try something. After we'll see which card we will play."

While the nature of the Olympics road race ensures that predicting winners and outcomes is harder than it is compared to other one-day events, Van Aert is at least confident that his preparation has been spot on. He went into the Tour de France fully expecting to support leader Primož Roglič, but the Slovenian failed to finish due to injuries sustained in an early crash. That allowed Van Aert to ride with greater freedom and target specific stages.

"It's always hard to predict because you can't control everything like you do at the Tour de France. It's super hard of course, but last year I came out of the Tour de France really well. That's what we're counting on now having done a really big block in those three weeks at the biggest race in the world and then with a few days of race reaching freshness again for Tokyo," he told Cyclingnews.

When asked if mental or physical freshness was more important after taking on the Tour de France and heading into the Tokyo Olympics, the Belgian remained on the fence, but he added that he felt stronger after completing the Tour this time around than he did last year, when he completed the race for the first time.

"They're both important. It's really demanding to race the Tour de France, but doing this double has been in my mind for a long time. You need to be ready for what's coming. Physically it's hard to predict what happens but I feel on a better level than last year. All signs are positive for Tokyo," he said.

Even though Belgium are one of just a handful of teams with a full quota of five riders in the road race, Van Aert is also fully aware that his rivals will look to him and his teammates to control the race.

"It's going to be really difficult and a lot different to the races that we're used to," he added.

"This is the same for everyone. Every nation is cut down to five riders or less. We just need to see how the race develops and go from there. We need to keep on top of it from the start and that will be a tricky part of the race. It's what makes the Olympics different from the rest of the races we do."

Editor in Chief - Cyclingnews.