Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has said he believes Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe are the biggest threats to his title chances at Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. The Belgian is one of the big favourites for the final monument of the year after already claiming victory at Milan-San Remo in August.
Despite labelling his French and Dutch rivals as his primary concerns, Van Aert is keenly aware that he must not count out any of the contenders.
“I am very motivated for De Ronde. I had very good legs in Gent-Wevelgem last week, so I don’t think that has changed," he said.
"My biggest competitors are Van der Poel and Alaphilippe, but last Sunday, riders like [Alberto] Bettiol, [Stefan] Küng and [Mads] Pedersen also showed to be very strong, so I will certainly take them into account.”
Van Aert looked one of the strongest at last weekend’s Gent-Wevelgem but missed the crucial split in a very tactical finale and subsequently finished eighth. He criticised Van der Poel’s tactics following the race, saying that his rival was racing to ensure he lost rather than looking to win himself.
Alaphilippe is set to make his Tour of Flanders debut on Sunday and, despite his protestations, will be seen as a favourite for the win. Van Aert last raced the Frenchman at the World Championships in Imola, where Alaphilippe rode away to take the rainbow stripes and he had to settle for second.
Despite the mid-autumn position in the calendar, the weather forecast for Sunday’s race is cold but dry. However, Van Aert doesn’t think that good weather will make the race any easier for the peloton.
“It is still one of the toughest classics on the calendar. When the weather is good, the peloton will race faster which will separate the wheat from the chaff,” he said.
Van Aert will be taking on De Ronde without one of his key lieutenants after Mike Teunissen was forced to pull out due to illness. Teunissen has been replaced by Bert-Jan Lindeman, who will join Maarten Wynants, Timo Roosen, Taco van der Hoorn, Pascal Eenkhoorn and Armun Jansen in the line-up.
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