Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is looking to end his Classics campaign on a high at Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. Speaking in Roubaix after completing his recon of the second half of the route, including a lap of the velodrome, Van Aert believes he has made a step forward since his Roubaix debut last season, where he finished 13th.
"I hope to do well again. I had a nice spring Classics campaign already. I’ve had a nice progression compared to last year. I hope to finish it off with one super performance. That’s my goal," Van Aert told Cyclingnews after speaking with the Flemish press in Roubaix.
"We have a strong team, maybe more so for this kind of race compared to the Tour of Flanders. They’re all big engines and strong and tall guys. I believe we can do a big effort here.
"I think without a mechanical last year I was already able to finish close to the top five, and for sure top 10, but I was 13th. I don’t know, but my feelings tell me that this suits me a little bit better than Flanders."
After third at Strade Bianche, sixth at Milan-San Remo and third at E3 BinckBank Classic, the only real blot on Van Aert’s spring is the Tour of Flanders. Van Aert came to the line in the group that contained most of the favourites but had nothing left in the tank when it came to the final sprint. He says that he has fully recovered from his efforts last Sunday.
"I think I didn’t have the legs I had the weekend before at E3 and Gent-Wevelgem. That was what I already felt in the race but then, on the other hand, I felt that [Alberto] Bettiol was stronger than all of us," he explained.
"My recovery went quite well and that was something really good to feel. Already the day after and on Tuesday I felt pretty good and pretty well recovered. Yesterday [Wednesday] I did a nice training ride and today we weren’t too slow. Now we have two recovery days to be fresh for Sunday."
On Thursday, along with many other teams, Van Aert and his Jumbo-Visma teammates took on the final 20 sectors of pavé, including the three five-star sections. Van Aert has been riding the cobbles all spring, but the Paris-Roubaix pavé is a different animal. With the din of time, it is easy to forget what something truly feels like and Thursday was a reminder of what to expect this weekend.
"After one year you always forget how bad it is and then you arrive there, and you hear the wheels cracking and then it’s like, ok, it was this bad," Van Aert said. "It was just a good reminder of the order of all the sectors and where the hard parts are and how bad the Carrefour de l’Arbre is."
Van Aert is once again among the list of favourites heading into this weekend. But that list is long, perhaps even longer than it was at the Tour of Flanders. Picking a winner for Paris-Roubaix is not an easy prospect, and Van Aert believes that this year’s race will be as unpredictable than ever with so many contenders riding at a similar level.
"There are a lot of guys who were able to win races this spring. It will be the same in Roubaix. Every year it is the most difficult to predict and this year it will be even more difficult."