A shaper outline of Wout van Aert’s 2023 schedule has now emerged as the Jumbo-Visma star confirmed this week that he will be focusing hard on the steadily shrinking handful of top Classics that still elude him.
Van Aert took a hugely impressive array of placings and victories in one-day races in 2022, including Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, as well as a second place in Paris-Roubaix and a third place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. This was despite catching COVID mid-way through the spring and missing out on the Tour of Flanders as a result.
He also placed 8th at Milan-San Remo in a season that featured nine victories, and a further 16 further podium placings and five top-10s.
Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix, neither of which Van Aert has won, are "obviously the big goals", the Jumbo-Visma racer told reporters this week when discussing 2023.
"Maybe next year I will collect fewer top 10 places, but I will catch that big fish."
The arrival of new signing Dylan van Baarle, who claimed Paris-Roubaix last year, will strengthen Jumbo-Visma in the Classics, but Van Aert brushed off the idea of any internal rivalry.
"It’s just important that someone from our team wins," Van Aert argued. "That may sound a bit corny, but that’s just the way it is.
"A team can never be too strong and I am really looking forward to racing together with him. I think we are very complementary."
Although there has been much speculation about whether Van Aert would do the Giro d’Italia, given its high time trialling content, the Belgian has also argued that the prospect of doing the Tour de France and World Championships next summer remains appealing.
"The Worlds will be only two weeks after the Tour next year, so that is a difficult combination, but it’s possible and has already been proven successful."
Although Van Aert said he would like to try his luck in other three-week races one day, he added: "Winning a Tour [de France] stage never gets boring."
It looks unlikely that Van Aert will defend his victory at the season opener, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, in 2023, despite the fact that he and his teammates recently reconned the course. Apparently the Belgian will be training at altitude for most of February in the Canary Islands and could skip the season-opener next year.
"It’s too early to say, but my program could see me miss out on the Omloop," Van Aert said. "The decision has yet to be made. A lot will also depend on the level I have at the Cyclocross World Championships."
Regarding his cyclocross racing program for 2022-23, Van Aert remains set to make his 2022 debut in Antwerp on December 4, although he said he has been delayed in his build-up and training program after a bout of bronchitis earlier this autumn.
At the moment, the Herentals cycloccross on January 4 is definitively on his winter calendar, as is his return after a one-year gap to the World Championships on February 5. But question marks about January in particular, given he has another training camp with the team in Spain during that period, still remain.
“Just when I wanted to start again, I got sick," he told the Belgian media about his recent illness. "I wanted to start again a little too quickly and was unable to do anything for another five days. Better now than in a month, I think.
"I won't be good until Christmas," he added. "If I finish 10th in Antwerp, I will not be disappointed. That would actually be normal.
"Whether I win or not, I've already established my cycloccross career. Suppose I finish 10th in Antwerp – which I hope not – then there will be some criticism, but I would consider it normal."
Whether he's been ill or not beforehand, Van Aert argues, cyclocross is a period of his season he enjoys a great deal.
"They are the only events of the year where nothing is expected of me. Last winter I had a great time. I am already looking forward to the Classics such as Loenhout [December 28] and Diegem [December 30] in the Christmas period."
As for where Van Aert will hit the road next year, just like his other Jumbo-Visma teammates, a full schedule for his 2023 season will not be made public until December 22. But the main outline is steadily becoming clearer.
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