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Van Aert sees opportunities in opening week of the 2021 Tour de France

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Wout van Aert has already enjoyed more Tour de France success than most riders, wearing the best young rider's jersey and winning one stage in 2019 before taking out a pair of stage victories and starring in a super-domestique mountain role in this year's Tour.

After seeing the 2021 Tour de France route unveiled on Sunday, the Belgian sees opportunities in the two individual time trials and perhaps an opportunity to wear the maillot jaune in the first week.

In an interview with Wielerflits.nl, Van Aert said the stages against the clock, which amount to the most individual time trial kilometres since 2013, stood out the most.

"[It is] a lot more than last year and I welcome that. Time trialing is part of the Tour, or actually of every Grand Tour, if you assume that it must be won by a rider that is as complete as possible. The fact that the first time trial will already be held on Wednesday is extra nice," Van Aert said.

"In addition, I think it will be a more classic Tour. A 'normal' first week, followed by the Alps and Pyrenees, with a few transitional stages in between. Also striking: shorter stages than we are used to."

The 2021 Tour de France opens in Brittany, with the first stage one for the puncheurs or punchy sprinters and the second finishing on the Mûr-de-Bretagne, followed by two flat stages and then the first time trial - quite a different start from the hilly start of this year's Tour de France in Nice and an opening week that favours Van Aert.

"It will also be different for the classification riders. You will not win the Tour in that first week, but you can lose it. There will be more stress. And I haven't raced in Brittany yet, but I suspect the wind may play a role there. But I think we shouldn't be afraid of that at Jumbo-Visma. We have the riders for it," Van Aert said.

He said the first week could present a chance for him to wear the maillot jaune for the first time in his career, but was careful to point out that his role would also include supporting the team's GC leader.

"Those are things that you can only say after a plan has been effectively drawn up with the team, if the tactics are clear. And if the shape is right at that moment, of course."

The dates of the 2021 Tour de France were shifted one week earlier than planned after the Olympic Games were rescheduled for next year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even so, the Tour de France ends on July 18 and the elite men's road race is a scant six days later.

Van Aert said he was able to finish a tough Tour de France this year and then race well at the World Championships in Imola, where he won the silver medal behind Julian Alaphilippe. "That was a good test. Especially because I went all out until the last day of the Tour. On the other hand, you cannot compare the World Championships and the Games. There is the climate in Tokyo, jet lag ... That is different from travelling from Paris to Imola. I am not yet sure what 2021 will look like for me. But I fear that choices will have to be made."

The choices could include an early exit from the Tour de France, which would eliminate Van Aert's aspirations to win the green jersey, or it could mean sacrificing freshness ahead of the Olympic Games - should he earn a quite probably selection to the Belgian team.

"The Olympic Games, that's only once every four years," Van Aert said. "This means that as a professional athlete you have a maximum of three chances and you are also dependent on the course. I will certainly take that into account. But to win the green jersey, you also need a number of years.

"Just like you don't win the Tour of Flanders with your first participation. So I also expect to have to invest in winning the green jersey. I don't want to miss too many opportunities in that regard either. But both so close together ... I can't answer it yet."