Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan) continued to add to his already impressive road palmares with the overall victory in the Tour of Denmark on Sunday. The 23-year-old cyclo-cross World Champion said he sees a focus on the Classics and short stage races in his future, but is not yet planning to focus solely on the road.
Van Aert took the race lead with a solo win in Vejle on stage 2, then cemented his lead with a strong performance in the 19.1km individual time trial in Nykøbing Falster, where he was second to defending race champion Mads Pedersen. On the final stage, Van Aert's teammate Tim Merlier - also a cyclo-cross racer - took his second stage victory in the bunch sprint.
"It was a stressful day with the crosswinds, from the beginning it was hard to stay in the front," Van Aert said after the stage. "Halfway through the race there was a split in the peloton, and I was the only one from my team in the front so it was a hard time to keep up, the guys really put pressure on me. Then we took back control once we were here on the local laps. Tim once again won the sprint, so I think it was a perfect race for us. We'll take the green and the blue jersey home. I can't imagine a better week in Denmark."
Van Aert has made a habit of throwing a few road races in his schedule throughout his 'cross career, but in 2016 he began to expand beyond a handful of one-day races and a stint in a week-long stage race. He won the prologue in the Tour of Belgium that year, but lost the lead two stages later. In 2017 he again took the Tour of Belgium lead thanks to a strong time trial but again, lost the lead in a tough stage in the Ardennes. In Denmark, he sealed the first stage race victory of his career to add to a handful of one-day races, the podium finish in Strade Bianche and his top 10 in the Tour of Flanders.
"I knew from the past I had a good TT in my legs which is always important for several stage races. Before, like in Tour of Belgium, I always managed to do a good time trial and then lost the jersey in a hard stage. Here I was strong over five days, and it's again a nice step in my career to be able to win a stage race," Van Aert said. "It's definitely possible to focus on Classics and short stage races like this."
Other cyclo-cross specialists like Lars Boom and Zdenek Stybar have given up the off-road discipline to focus fully on the road, but Van Aert says he plans to continue to combine the two for as long as possible.
"I think in the last years I managed to be strong in the road races and cyclo-cross as well, so why not continue with this combination. For me it's really fun to have an exciting programme throughout the year. It's never boring for me, I'm always searching for new goals, which makes it interesting.
"As long as I feel comfortable in this situation I'll continue. In the future when I want to make a step higher or I feel like I need to skip something to be better in the other discipline, then I will do it, but for now it's not necessary."
Van Aert will compete for Belgium in the European Championships road race this week before turning to preparations for the cyclo-cross season and the eventual defense of his world title in Bogense, Denmark.
"Of course I will come back to win it again, but it's the hardest race of the year to win. It takes a lot of sacrifices and training to get on the best level at that point. It's so far away, I think we need to enjoy this victory first."
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