Van Aert decries 'dangerous' Tour de France cobbled stage on bad luck day

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) rides on the cobbles during the 2022 Tour de France stage 5
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) rides on the cobbles during the 2022 Tour de France stage 5 (Image credit: Getty images)

Wout van Aert may have remained in the Tour de France lead on Wednesday, but his subsequent description of stage 5 as a "shit day" for the Jumbo-Visma squad neatly encapsulated just how fraught the previous few hours of racing had been for the Belgian and his squad.

In a miasma of dust, crashes and confusion on Wednesday's dramatic race across the cobbles of northern France, Van Aert himself fell once, nearly collided with a DSM team car, and ended up racing wrongly convinced he was en route to losing the yellow.

Yet even if he remained in the lead, the experience could not have felt further from Van Aert's perfectly coordinated solo attack and stage win to Calais only 24 hours before.

But while the Belgian praised his team for their strong defence of both his yellow and Jonas Vingegaard's chances in the GC battle, Van Aert recognised stage 5 had been a very complicated day for Jumbo-Visma. And with team co-leader Primož Roglič shedding minutes on all his rivals, one that ended very differently to how Jumbo-Visma had hoped.

"We had big plans today, and definitely this was not what we came for," Van Aert told reporters despite holding the lead for a fourth straight stage.

"We were strong as a group, but we could not bring pressure [to bear] on our rivals and that's a shame. I'm disappointed I could not do more than chase at the end.

"It was just a shit day, Jonas had a mechanical and struggled for a bike change, then we lost Primož and I didn't see how that happened. We didn't know what happened to Primož, but in 15 minutes so much happened, it was difficult to keep an overview."

So dense was the fog of the Tour's cobbled war on Wednesday that Van Aert said he had no idea that he was in the process of saving his yellow jersey and "that was not the goal of chasing". 

"In the middle of the stage, when I crashed, I thought for sure I was going to lose it, I was so far back and my legs didn't feel good.

"So it was an easy decision to fully commit to teamwork. I had to work to try to bring [Tadej] Pogačar [UAE Emirates] back, but I had no clear overview. So I stayed with Jonas to try and minimize the gaps."

Barring some token collaboration from Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma did the bulk of the work to try and chase down the Slovenian. Van Aert highlighted the strength in depth of his squad, even if rather than dishing out the pain, they were in damage limitation mode.

"I think everyone liked it more yesterday [stage 4] but days like today you have to overcome. We kept everything good for Jonas on GC and I'm proud of the way everyone committed in the chase. We will keep fighting."

Van Aert said that after crashing on a corner with what seemed to be minimal physical consequences. It had been harder on his mind than on his body to get back into the fray. Then given his somewhat frazzled post-crash state, his near-miss with the rear bumper of the DSM team car when it braked suddenly had been an accident waiting to happen.

"I was feeling OK, but it was difficult to fight for position again and throw myself back in the mix, that was more of a struggle.

"Then with the DSM car, I was still a bit confused after first crash, so I braked too late and I couldn't avoid riding into my teammate Steven Kruijswijk's bike. I was a bit dizzy and overwhelmed and then at that moment when I was talking with Steven, DSM braked in front of me. It was quite scary. I was only centimetres away from some big damage."

As the first time that Van Aert has ridden a cobbled stage of the Tour de France, and as he put it, "A lot of guys had told me you can't compare it with a Classic, and yes, it was really dangerous.

"Actually in the beginning I didn't really like it in the front of the bunch, the roads were way too dangerous. Everyone expected something from us because of the cobbles, but then we started to go through the villages, the roads narrowed a lot, there were things on the road. I didn't like it there and didn't want to take risks."

No sooner had he decided to start moving up, he said, then he crashed, with the dent to his confidence much bigger than any physical injury.

"It's a shame because at that point I let down the other boys and I was in the back instead of having a good position on the cobbles. From then on it was a fight with myself the whole day.

"With no cars or motos in front of us, I got the feeling that I was really far back. But we got information over the radio and I knew I had some options to keep fighting."

And after the dust finally settled on what had easily been the most decisive stage of the 2022 Tour de France so far, "It was definitely a stage that passed by really fast," Van Aert said. 

He was adamant that the GC battle is far from over for either of their two leaders for yellow. It also goes without saying, too, that he remains in the green at the head of the points classification.

"Of course Primož is a bit far back, and maybe a minute or two feels like a lot, but that can definitely change again. First we have to check if Primož is OK," he said, "but today has shown for certain we have two of the strongest Tour de France riders in our team."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.