Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert has admitted that he still has some way to go to return to anything like the form he had before crashing out of the Tour de France in July. For the past few months, it's been all about recovering from the serious thigh injury he sustained after clipping a crowd barrier during the individual time trial on stage 13 of the race.
Tuesday's win at Belgium's coveted Flandrien of the Year awards, however, appears to have given the 25-year-old the boost that he needed to knuckle down and start thinking about the 2020 season.
"I still have a long way to go," Van Aert told Belgian news website Nieuwsblad.be after taking the prize, "but this trophy is extra motivation to work hard in the coming weeks."
He said that he was happy with how his recovery has been going, and that things are looking good for a return to full health.
"I hope to be able to some cyclo-cross racing this winter," the three-time cyclo-cross world champion and three-time Belgian champion said. "I think I need to. It would be fun for me, and for many other people."
Two months out from this year's Belgian championships, however, Van Aert knows that he'd have a lot of work to do if he wanted to be competitive there.
"I've done no training or condition-building yet, let alone any running," he said. "My longest training ride so far has been three hours. So if I was to do some cyclo-cross, it would mainly be to try to get back that competitive edge and to try to regain some explosiveness. But as soon as I feel as though I can return to 'cross racing, I will. I think I'd rather do a few races and only finish 15th than not race and have to try to get back to fitness another way."
As for the road, Van Aert will head to Spain on a training camp with his Jumbo-Visma teammates on December 11, he told Nieuwsblad.be.
"The intention is to try to achieve some level of fitness by then in order to ride with the rest of my Jumbo-Visma teammates. It's one of the small goals I've set myself, although I don't yet know how realistic it is," he said.
Van Aert pipped Remco Evenepoel and the youngster's Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate Philippe Gilbert to the Flandrien of the Year prize, but admitted that Gilbert had been his favourite to win.
"He won Paris-Roubaix, while Remco also took some nice wins. I almost fell out of my seat when I saw him win the Clasica San Sebastian," he admitted.
"The spring was beautiful," Van Aert said of his performances at Strade Bianche (third), Milan-San Remo (sixth) and the E3 BinckBank Classic, where he finished second to Deceuninck-QuickStep's Zdenek Stybar.
"But after the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, I was disappointed in myself that I wasn't at the same level that I had been at. It's true that I was perhaps the most consistent Belgian rider [this year], but the Tour de France will have made the difference," said Van Aert who, although he was making his Tour debut, was part of the Jumbo-Visma squad that won the team time trial on stage 2 on home soil in Brussels, and then won stage 10, beating Elia Viviani and Caleb Ewan in a reduced bunch sprint in Albi.
"I was shocked afterwards at just how many people enjoyed that," he said before revealing his own favourite road wins in 2019, of which there were four.
"Purely in terms of physical performance, the time trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné and the national time trial title stand out for me," he said, with both wins coming in June.
As for where the trophy is likely to be kept, Van Aert joked: "We've got a cupboard with four shelves in the hall at our place. Three of them are being used by the cobblestone trophies I won at the Koppenbergcross, while the other one has a vase on it, which may now need a new home."
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