Cyclo-cross star Wout Van Aert participated in his first race of the season under the colours of Jumbo-Visma at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday. The 24-year-old was was present in the group that sprinted for sixth place and he crossed the finish line in 13th place in Ninove.
Van Aert is in the middle of a dispute with his former team, owned by Sniper Cycling. He rode most of the cyclo-cross season as an independent rider and then announced that he would race with Jumbo-Visma during the 2019 road season.
At Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Van Aert and his teammates were present when the big guns were firing but late in the race they faded back.
On the narrow, cobbled Molenberg climb, Danny van Poppel led the way for Van Aert. Thanks to his efforts, a lead group of 18 riders was created from which the winner of the race would come. On the following climbs, Van Aert started struggling and he missed the decisive move with six riders that escaped shortly after the Berendries climb.
Although Van Aert did expect to get dropped, he said that he could appreciate the fact that he still featured in a group that sprint for sixth place.
"There's two ways to look at it: the glass is half full or half empty. In the end, I'm riding in a really nice group so that wasn't bad," Van Aert said, shortly after crossing the finish line in Ninove.
When asked what was missing to follow the moves on the Elverenberg-Vossenhol climb, Van Aert smiled and said, “Good legs, I guess. Sometimes it's super easy. My shape definitely isn't bad so that's a good confirmation. In the final, there were a lot of guys who were stronger on the steepest climbs. That could've been better but I'm happy with my performance. Last year, we had to wait until the Muur before something happened due to the wind. Now there were crosswinds and guys who did an early move were always in the advantage."
In a press release, Van Aert added to that first conclusion, saying that it wasn't his strongest performance.
"Today wasn’t my best day, but I certainly wasn’t bad in my first road race of the season. I was able to sprint along for a place of honour. It’s never easy to be up there straight away in the first race of the season. It boosts my morale ahead of the upcoming weeks that I was able to keep up with the better classics riders.
"I struggled on the Berendries but then I was able to bridge back up. The Muur was too much for me. The team rode a strong race. We never rode in a defensive style. It proves that we’ve got a strong team for this work. It's a pity that Mike crashed because otherwise we would’ve been with three guys up front."
While recovering at the finish line, Van Aert already glanced ahead to his participation in Strade Bianche, the race on gravel roads where he finished third in his debut last year. "First I'll recover from this race and then I'll head to Italy on Thursday. This race should only make me better."
Later on Saturday, Van Aert noted that he lost his bike computer during the race in a posted on Twitter.