Wild West: Tour of Flanders takes on a new guise in Wout van Aert's absence

Dwars door Vlaanderen 2022 - 76th Edition - Roeselare - Waregem 183,7 km - 30/03/2022 - Mathieu Van Der Poel (NED - Alpecin - Fenix) - photo Peter De Voecht/PN/SprintCyclingAgency©2022
(Image credit: Peter De Voecht/PN/SprintCyclingAgency)

The headline in Friday morning's edition of Het Nieuwsblad barely needed translating. 'Vlaanderen bidt voor mirakel,' read the caption above a photograph of Wout van Aert and a story about the illness that was threatening his participation in Belgian cycling's grandest occasion: "Flanders prays for a miracle."

The mirakel never materialised. Late on Friday evening, Wout van Aert took to Instagram to confirm that he had tested positive for COVID-19. The outstanding performer on the cobbles this Spring and the overwhelming favourite for the Tour of Flanders was out of the race altogether.

Even before Van Aert's absence was confirmed, his fan club's deflation was palpable. They were due to be stationed on the Oude Kwaremont on Sunday, but now they aren't so sure. 

"What's the point of standing by the roadside?" club chairman Peter Van Echelpoel lamented to Het Nieuwsblad. "To see Van der Poel attack?"

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