Wout van Aert is two kilogrammes and five weeks away from full fitness, according to Jumbo-Visma coach Marc Lamberts, meaning he may not be at his best for his return to racing at Strade Bianche but should peak for the cobbled Classics later in the spring.
The cyclo-cross season and the birth of his son meant Van Aert missed the bulk of the team’s January training camp but he’s now ramping up his preparations for the 2021 road campaign. He is currently in Tenerife, nearly half-way through a three-week altitude training camp.
"I had hoped that Wout would have come to Tenerife with a slightly broader base - I'm not going to dramatize that. Wout's level is good, but it must be better," Lamberts told Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws.
"There is still some work to be done. Otherwise Wout could already start racing and he wouldn't have to sit on a mountain for three weeks. He knows what he's doing and he's making progress - I can already see that. He is good enough to ride the finals, but not to win. That's what we're here for now."
The cyclo-cross season is partly responsible for one of the biggest hurdles for Van Aert to overcome before he’s back in Monument-winning shape: his weight.
The winter is usually associated with relaxation of strict dietary regimes but in Van Aert’s cyclo-cross racing and training means he has gained upper-body bulk that’s unwanted for the road season.
"The countless sprints, the uphill climbs, pulling and pulling on the handlebars and balancing with the body ensure that he has a muscular upper body again. Wout makes muscle mass very easily and you can't just get those muscles off," Lamberts told HLN.
"Two kilos, that's 7,000 calories or a little more per kilo. That's 15,000 kilocalories. That is a lot and it takes time. We will also take that time. Training hard on top of the Teide and following a diet do not go together. Little by little we're bring his weight down.
"Martijn Redegeld is here, he is the nutritionist of the team. He monitors everything closely. While the others still eat a lot of protein before going to sleep, Wout limits that. We do make sure that he gets enough proteins and nutrients to be able to recover from his training sessions, but nothing more. They really work to the edge there. An extra scoop of quark (cheese) - Wout should avoid that."
Van Aert will only leave Tenerife on March 1, meaning he will miss Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on the last weekend of Feburary.
He will make his debut at Strade Bianche before riding Tirreno-Adriatico and then the main spring Classics, starting with Milan-San Remo on March 20 through to Paris-Roubaix on April 11.
He won both Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo in the summer of 2020 but Lamberts feels Van Aert will need five weeks to reach his top condition, meaning he might not quite be at his best at Strade Bianche, but he expects him to be at full force from Milan-San Remo onwards. He is also unlikely to be to be to challenge for overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico as was planned.
Another blow to Van Aert's spring chances is the crash recently suffered by teammate Mike Teunissen, which further drains the team's resources after Tom Dumoulin took a step away from racing.
"With Mike and a good Tom we had three pawns who could ride a final in every classic. I hope we don't lose Mike all spring, but this is of course not good," said Van Aert, according to Het Nieuwsblad.
"Of course we are not Deceuninck-QuickStep. We are never going to have five pawns in the final. But everyone now knows that we can win monuments and that will make a big difference mentally too. I have faith in my teammates."
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