Wout van Aert: I have never considered myself a frequent winner
Belgian among 'victory kings' of peloton after 13 wins and Flandrien of the Year award
Earlier this week, Wout van Aert added a third Flandrien of the Year award to his long list of successes during a 2021 season which has seen him rack up three Tour de France stages, two Classics, and the Belgian road title, among others.
His 13 wins on the season rank him top of the 2021 leaderboard alongside Slovenian sensations Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, the star trio taking up the spots usually reserved for the pure sprinters of the peloton.
Speaking after the award ceremony that saw the Jumbo-Visma man beat out Alpecin-Fenix's Tim Merlier by 574 points to 361, Van Aert said that he was pleased to be what the Flemish call the "victory king" of 2021, especially considering he had never considered himself a frequent winner before.
"I have never considered myself a frequent winner," Van Aert told Het Nieuwsblad (opens in new tab). "Not even in the youth categories or in 'cross. In my best years I sometimes won more than 10 cyclo-cross races, but I was never a 'slugger' like Mathieu van der Poel.
"This yea, together with Pogačar and Roglič, I'm the victory king of the international peloton. I really like that, and it proves that I was there every race and had a consistently high level.
"I had counted on winning this trophy for the third time, and if every rider votes the way I do – I only look at results, not friendships – then I think I'm entitled to the title. I put myself first on the ballot ahead of Stuyven and Merlier, so I think it's nice that my colleagues also think I deserve this trophy."
Despite the wins and the plaudits, Van Aert still thinks he has room to improve, giving himself an 8.5 out of 10 rating for the season. And while he rates his Ventoux victory at the Tour as his finest moment – "everything went right that day" – he said that his best feeling on the bike came elsewhere.
"The best feeling I might have had was in the Tour of Britain but the Tokyo road race was my best performance. I achieved a high level in a parcours that is normally too ambitious for me," Van Aert said.
"If you look at that race objectively, what I did there was punishing despite my physique. I rode the final against only top climbers. Moreover, in recent years I have already ridden some Classics in which I had to watch what I did in the final to have something left. In Tokyo I had a day in which my strength did not run out. In the finale I still had a few 'cartridges' in my legs, but it was in vain."
On the flip side, the World Championships in Flanders brought Van Aert's biggest disappointment of the year.
For the second year in a row he took time trial silver, only this time on home roads near Brugge. A week later he finished 11th in the road race despite being the big favourite for the rainbow jersey and only leader of the Belgian national team.
Putting the team polemics of the road race aside, Van Aert said that the time trial was actually the most disappointing, especially given what came in the road race and then Paris-Roubaix, where he finished seventh to round out his season.
"First of all the World Championships because I had expected much more from it. The Tour of Flanders also belongs in this category, maybe even more than the Worlds road race," he said of his season disappointments.
"I had a really hard time with the Worlds time trial second place. Especially because the following weeks I missed out in the road race and Roubaix. If I had been six seconds faster in the time trial, the world title would have been a fact and my autumn would have had a much nicer ring to it."
Since ending his season, Van Aert has taken three weeks off the bike, including a two-week holiday in Puglia, in southern Italy.
He's set to return to racing during the cyclo-cross season in December but has already been itching to get back on the bike, he said.
"It's been a long time since I haven't cycled for such a long time," Van Aert said, confirming he had been running to get his exercise endorphins.
"Usually during a three-week period such as this, I can't stop myself from doing a short ride with some friends but this time it wasn't possible. The last few days in Puglia I was looking forward to getting home and riding my bike.
"Going running was mainly to keep me amused and keep fit. Doing nothing for days and just sitting at the table is not for me. I need to be active, and as our [son] Georges is only nine months old, I can't go for long walks or excursions, so I quickly put on my running shoes."
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