Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is in Canada for the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and Montréal, the first races on a 'Worlds' tour that will see him circumnavigate the globe with the hope of ending his incredibly successful 2022 season by claiming the rainbow jersey in Wollongong.
The Belgian, like several big-name rivals Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco), Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) will fly west from Canada to Los Angeles next Monday and on to Australia to limit travel time and arrive early down under for a final block of intense training before the men’s World Championships road race on Sunday September 25.
Van Aert has never ridden the Canadian WorldTour races before but openly talked about winning either in Quebec on Friday or Montreal on Sunday to affirm his form and World Championships ambitions.
“These two races are on the bucket list for me to win. Winning these races itself is a big goal,” he told the media, including Cyclingnews, in Quebec on Wednesday afternoon.
“So far it’s a really cool experience. It’s a completely different vibe than we’re used to in the European races where everybody is a bit on their own. Here, everyone is more or less all together. That's nice.
I’m looking forward to the races. I saw the final kilometres today of a little bit of the circuit in Quebec and it looks really hard. It’s really for explosive riders, for Classic specialists. They’re races we’re really motivated for.”
Van Aert opted to fly direct from Paris to Quebec on a scheduled flight rather than take the flights offered by race organisers to Montreal followed by a four-hours bus journey to Quebec. Delays meant his flight stopped over in Brest for several hours but he was up early on Wednesday to train with his Jumbo-Visma teammates and all the other teams in Canada for the two races.
The 90 minutes sitting on the runway at the tip of France allowed Van Aert to watch the dramatic end of the Vuelta a España stage, seeing how fellow Belgian but rival trade team rider Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) suffered a late puncture, while teammate Primož Roglič crashed in sight of the finish after going on the attack. Roglič was forced to quit the Vuelta due to his injuries, ending hopes of a fourth consecutive victory.
“I was cheering for Primož and I think he did a really really nice attack, something that nobody expected from the GC guys. It was a shame to see him crash,” Van Aert said.
“I saw immediately that even though he finished the stage, it was going to be really hard to overcome his injuries. It was dramatic to see.”
Van Aert has not yet spoken to Roglič but is convinced he can again bounce back from his latest crash and injuries. Van Aert encouraged him to do so but was concerned it was yet another hard blow for the Slovenian.
“He’s mentally super tough guy but also for him sometimes it can be too much and I can imagine it was a big setback,” Van Aert said.
“It will probably be hard to overcome this crash but I'm convinced he will manage to do that.”
Van Aert was cheering for his Jumbo-Visma teammate but now that Roglič is no longer in the race his focus has shifted to his rival Evenepoel, as Belgian cycling chases its first Grand Tour victory since Johan De Muynck won the Giro d’Italia in 1978.
The two Belgian riders will share leadership at the World Championships but they still have to fully clear the air after last year’s road race debacle of Evenpoel’s early attacks, Van Aert’s lack of success and the subsequent polemics. Any full clarification will probably only come if they start with a clean sheet at this year’s World Championships and manage to agree on a combined tactic.
“The best rider in the races should win and of course, as a Belgian, it's nice to see what's happening now,” Van Aert said, going on to praise Evenepoel.
“I always saw Primož as his biggest rival because he's also a winner and he has the experience to win the Grand Tour. For sure he had plans in the last week and also you could see yesterday he was strong, that’s why it’s a pity he crashed.
“Everybody in Belgium is crossing his fingers for a new Grand Tour winner. We have a big cycling history but it's been a really long time since we’ve had a GC winner. Remco has been one of the strongest riders, so he’d deserve to win it.”
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