Wout van Aert spent almost the entirety of his cyclo-cross season alone out front but predicts that will change as he switches his focus to the road and links up with his Jumbo-Visma teammates for a training camp in Spain.
"It may well be that I'm the first to be dropped," he said after clinching a fifth Belgian cyclo-cross title on Sunday.
The victory was Van Aert's ninth in 10 appearances this 'cross season, which, despite being unable to directly compare it to his previous longer campaigns, he described as his best ever.
It might have been a perfect one, had he not suffered a mechanical problem at the Hulst World Cup, where he was limited to fourth place.
"Without wishing to complain, it is a pity that I had bad luck in Hulst last week. Winning all the races, that would have been cool. I didn't think that could work," Van Aert said, according to Het Laatste Nieuws.
"It was short, but intense, and very nice too. I also find it difficult to compare. Riding 10 'cross races is not comparable to a winter in which I ride 30 or 40 - then cyclo-cross is a main goal and the experience is completely different. Since my focus is more on the road, this is my best campaign ever."
With his main focus being on the road, Van Aert has now ducked out of the fields, deciding not to travel to the USA to compete for a fourth 'cross world title. Instead, he has flown straight to Spain to take part in a key pre-season training camp with his Jumbo-Visma teammates in Alicante.
His dominance in cyclo-cross would suggest he is already in flying form, but Van Aert explained that the muddy hour-long races breed a different kind of fitness, and that he'll be playing catch-up on the long days in the saddle on the smooth asphalt of south east Spain.
"Soon I will be training again with my teammates who are already well ahead in their preparation for the road season. They have already put in their hours, and are already training more intensively," Van Aert said.
"Compared to them I will include more endurance training, which I have missed in recent weeks. To be specific, my threshold is already good after a cyclo-cross winter, but now I have to make sure that even after five or six hours of racing I still have that great power that I have built up in cyclo-cross.
"On the other hand, it has been since the last camp in December that I did really long training sessions. It may very well be that when I go riding with my teammates in Spain for five or six hours, I am the first to be dropped. I hope my teammates will wait for me at the top [of the climbs]."
Van Aert's decision to curtail his 'cross season indicates the level of his ambition in this year's spring Classics, as he looks to win the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix for the first time. He will once again ride the Tour de France in the summer, now with the aim of winning the green jersey, before targeting the road race world title in Australia in September.
"It is still a long way off, but it's something I am definitely thinking about," he added.
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