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Wout van Aert 'unlikely' to ride Tour of Flanders

Belgian Wout Van Aert of Team JumboVisma pictured in action during the mens GentWevelgem In Flanders Fields cycling race 2489km from Ieper to Wevelgem Sunday 27 March 2022 BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM Photo by DIRK WAEM BELGA MAG Belga via AFP Photo by DIRK WAEMBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) in action at Gent-Wevelgem (Image credit: DIRK WAEMBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images)

Wout van Aert’s participation in the Tour of Flanders is in doubt after the Belgian champion missed his Jumbo-Visma squad’s pre-race reconnaissance on Thursday due to illness. In a post on social media, Jumbo-Visma acknowledged that he was 'unlikely' to line up at the Ronde.

Already winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic this season, Van Aert was the favourite to win the Tour of Flanders, not least due to the strength of his supporting cast at Jumbo-Visma.

His absence would utterly change the complexion of a race that also features Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) among the contenders for victory in Oudenaarde. Jumbo-Visma did not specify the nature of Van Aert's illness.

"Unfortunately Wout is not joining in for the recon ride today. Unfortunately he's not feeling really fit and he's staying at home for that reason. We have to do it at least today without him," said team directeur sportif Grischa Niermann.

"If we only miss him today for the recon ride it wouldn't be too bad, but of course we have to admit that now there's a chance he will miss the race."

After winning in Harelbeke last Friday, Van Aert underscored his pre-Ronde form with a rasping acceleration on the Kemmelberg at Gent-Wevelgem two days later. The Belgian opted not to race Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, preferring to train ahead of the Tour of Flanders.

Niermann said that a final decision on Van Aert's participation in Belgian cycling's grandest occasion was likely to be made on Friday.

"In the moment I can't really say something," Niermann said. "If he feels fit and ready to race on Sunday morning, we might still let him race. Most likely we'll know by tomorrow how the situation is and how it evolves."

Jumbo-Visma strengthened their Classics team during the off-season with a view to supporting Van Aert, but now their two new arrivals could be charged with leading the team at the Tour of Flanders. Christophe Laporte placed second at both the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem, while Tiesj Benoot was outsprinted by Van der Poel at Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen.

"If that's the case we have to make a new plan, we have to change plans. It would be a very, very big setback," Niermann said. "We can't replace him, of course. On the other hand, we have a whole team in great form and two guys who are the best riders here: Tiesj and Christophe. We will make new plans then.

"It will change a lot for the race, not only for ourselves but for our competitors. Of course, we'll make new plans and start the race with the goal of winning."

Van Aert placed second in the pandemic-delayed 2020 Tour of Flanders, losing out in a tight sprint to Van der Poel. He again lined up as a favourite twelve months ago but had to settle for sixth in Oudenaarde.

This year's race was billed all week as the latest instalment in the longstanding rivalry between Van Aert and Van der Poel, who returned from a nagging back injury just in time for the Classics.

If Van Aert's absence is confirmed, then Van der Poel would set out from Antwerp as the man to beat, but the tenor of the entire race could be very different without the Belgian champion.

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Barry Ryan

Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.