The green sprinter's jersey at the Tour de France has been a dream for Wout van Aert since at least 2020 after he finished the Grand Tour for the first time. This season, Jumbo-Visma have agreed to support those ambitions alongside Primož Roglič's race for the overall victory. Van Aert showed in Sunday's opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné that he is on track for July.
Van Aert, 27, has six Tour de France stage wins to his name, and after he won in three different types of stages last season - from a breakaway over the Mont Ventoux, in the stage 20 time trial and in the most coveted bunch sprint of them all on the Champs-Élysées - expectations rose sky high for his future green jersey chances.
Having started the 2022 season with a win in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the points classification and a stage at Paris-Nice, Van Aert turned his focus to the Classics where he took home the win in the E3 Classic and podiums at Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He then stepped away from competition for a reset and training at altitude, revealing in his post-Dauphiné stage win interview that he has spent the past few weeks honing his sprint.
"I had a great spring season but I wasn't always happy with the feeling in the sprint. It's definitely something we've worked on in the past couple of weeks and if it pays off immediately it's always a good feeling," Van Aert said.
"Today was a nice confirmation of a nice build-up in the last weeks," Van Aert said, adding that he hasn't felt great leading up to the race. "I came here with a few question marks - after a preparation period, it's always hard to predict how it will go in a race. I felt quite good and I think we're on track to reach the best possible shape before the Tour. On a stages like today I can already show my good legs and it's a pleasure to feel this."
Van Aert had to sacrifice his final lead-out man Christophe Laporte on the run-in to Beauchastel on the 191.8 kilometre stage after QuickStep-AlphaVinyl's Remi Cavagna attacked in the final two kilometres. But even before the sprint, Jumbo-Visma burned matches to distance sprinters like Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious) after the second traverse of the Côte du Chambon de Bavas with 36km to go.
Getting over the climb with enough left to sprint and beat fast men like Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) was another good indication for Van Aert.
"If you look to the profile today you could expect a hard final. There were a lot of teams interested in dropping a few sprinters and I could hang on and I felt good for the sprint," he said. "It's really nice. On the climbs I was quite comfortable, normally it suits me when it's a hard final like this. But then in the sprint there were guys like Hayter you have to beat - he's doing great this season. It was tough to boss him but in the end it happens so I'm happy."
The rest of the Dauphiné will be a Tour de France dress rehearsal for Jumbo-Visma, with Van Aert promising to defend his race lead before supporting Roglič in the tough closing stages next weekend.
"We're here with a strong team. I think the coming stages suit me quite well so we will definitely try to defend if it's possible. In the weekend I hope to hand it over to Primoz but there are a lot of tough stages coming first."
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.