Tour de France: Wout van Aert aims at third – and possibly fourth – stage win
Belgian among favourites for Saturday's time trial and for final stage in Paris on Sunday
Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert starts this weekend's final two Tour de France stages as surely the only rider capable of winning both. Sunday's final stage on the Champs-Elysées is a given as a goal, but the 26-year-old has told the Belgian media that he'll wait to see how he feels on Saturday morning to decide whether he'll also give it everything to try to win the individual time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles.
Van Aert has already won two stages at this year's Tour – stage 5 in Privas and stage 7 in Lavaur, both in bunch sprints – and stage 20's 36km time trial from Lure to the top of the climb of La Planche des Belles Filles on Saturday gives the Belgian an opportunity to win on a stage that ahead of this year's race might have seemed beyond him.
However, Van Aert has performed beyond most people's expectations on the climbs at this year's Tour, often driving the pace at the head of his Jumbo-Visma team's 'train' in the service of team leader – and overall race leader – Primož Roglič, with Van Aert even managing to finish third on Thursday's final stage in the Alps in La Roche-sur-Foron.
"I haven't decided on the time trial yet. We'll see about it tomorrow," Van Aert told reporters immediately after Friday's stage in Champagnole, according to Het Nieuwsblad. "I'm always eager to go for it, but I also have people around me who slow me down when necessary."
Van Aert explained that his decision is likely to come down to whether his coaches think giving 100 per cent on Saturday's stage could be detrimental to his chances at the hilly World Championships road race in Imola, Italy, on Sunday, September 27, where he'll again start as one of the favourites.
"Our work is almost over," he continued, with Jumbo team leader Roglič now needing to maintain some semblance of his 57-second buffer to Slovenian compatriot Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) on Saturday's time trial to all but sew up the title at this year's Tour de France. "It's now up to Roglič to finish it tomorrow."
Van Aert also revealed that no matter how hard he ends up pushing himself in the time trial, he will change from a TT bike to a road bike for the final climb on Saturday.
"It's a personal choice, and everyone will do what's right for them, but I can climb faster if I can stand on the pedals, and for me that's easier on my road bike than on my time trial bike," he said.
"I won't ride at 95 per cent tomorrow," Van Aert added. "The choice is between going 100 per cent or just making sure I arrive on time [inside the time limit]. All or nothing."
However, according to Het Nieuwsblad, Jumbo-Visma's head of performance, Mathieu Heijboer, told Algemeen Dagblad talk show In het Wiel (In the Wheel) on Friday evening that Van Aert would be giving it everything to try to win the time trial on Saturday.
"The plan is for Wout to give it his best in the time trial," Heijboer said. "Those are the kinds of decisions we make together. He likes the look of it and so do we, so he'll go for it.
"It will be difficult for him to win," he admitted. "He'll have to build a gap over the top climbers in the first 30 flat kilometres. Nowadays, Wout is also a real climber, of course, but there is still a difference between a Wout and a Primož Roglič, who's a pure climber.
"If Wout wants to win the time trial," concluded Heijboer, "he probably needs a buffer of about 40 seconds over Roglic at the foot of La Planche des Belles Filles."
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