World cyclo-cross champion Wout van Aert proved yet again he can compete in major road races at the European Championships, even though he was disappointed to take the bronze medal behind title winner Matteo Trentin (Italy) and cyclo-cross rival Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands), after the rain-soaked 230km race in Glasgow.
Van Aert was part of the decisive move that formed in the final 50km of racing but was unable to come around Trentin in the sprint. "I'm really disappointed. I really thought that I could win right up to a few metres before the finish,” van Aert told Het Nieuwsblad soon after the race.
"I didn't manage to get past him and that's why I'm disappointed. A medal is nice but I’m still find it a disappointment."
Van Aert shared leadership of the Belgian team with Greg van Avermaet and Jasper Stuyven. He was to go with the attacks in the finale after Belgian worked to make their rivals suffer, while van Avermaet waited for the final two laps.
When Nico Denz of Germany kicked off the finale of the race with 50km to go, van Aert made sure he was there, with teammate Xandro Meurisse giving vital support.
"We didn’t have our fastest riders in the team and so we had to take on the race. None of the sprinters were there in the finale and so our tactics were right," van Aert argued.
Claeys and Van Gestel and then the others guys made the race fairly hard and that hurt a lot of people. After that it was up to Stuyven, Van Avermaet and me to take turns to cover moves.
"One of the first attacks worked out, so I could take my chance. It was early but there was nobody to chase, so we had to go for it."
Van Aert was expected to attack on the final lap but the presence of Trentin and Italian teammate Davide Cimolai, and then a late crash sparked by Maurits Lammertink, forced him to wait for the sprint.
"When the group was bigger, I was thinking about attacking but the fall, when we lost Xandro Meurisse was not in my favour. If I had gone on the climb, one of the Italians would have sacrificed themselves and chased me," he explained.
"I thought it better to put everything on the sprint because after such a tough race the sprint does not lie. I can only admit that the others were faster. We predicted that we would be in the action, but can only regret that we are standing next to the winner on the podium.
"Cimolai led out the sprint for Trentin. I sat where I wanted to sit, on Mathieu's wheel because I thought he was the fastest. But it was windy and slightly uphill, so I waited a long time. We got to Trentin's gears but unfortunately no further. I can only congratulate him, he was the strongest man in the leading group. He's not a newcomer is he?"
Back to cyclo-cross training
Van Aert mixed his cyclo-cross season with road racing in the spring and plans to do the same again this winter before focusing more on road racing at WorldTour level with LottoNL-Jumbo in 2020 and beyond.
He has always used road racing to hone his form and will now begin to work on his cyclo-cross skills and speed as the weeks tick down to the start of the 'cross season in the USA in mid-September.
"This was the goal of summer, I need a goal to look forward to. But from Tuesday I’ll jump on the 'cross bike and I look forward to that too. That's never boring for me," he said, signing off from his super road campaign.
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