Wout van Aert still has doubts over knee injury at Tour de France

Stage winner yellow jersey of overall leader and green jersey of best climber JumboVisma teams Belgian Wout Van Aert celebrates on the podium after he won the fifth stage of the 74th edition of the Criterium du Dauphine cycling race 1625 km between ThizylesBourgs and Chaintre central eastern France on June 9 2022 Photo by Marco BERTORELLO AFP Photo by MARCO BERTORELLOAFP via Getty Images
Van Aert in the green jersey at the Critérium du Dauphiné (Image credit: MARCO BERTORELLOAFP via Getty Images)

Wout van Aert appeared to give himself a clean bill of health on Tuesday when he published details of a training ride and declared that the pain in his knee had gone.

As he sat down in front of the media on Wednesday to discuss his Tour de France ambitions, things appeared far less clear, and the Belgian himself a good deal more pessimistic.

When asked if the issues was worse on his road bike versus his time trial bike, or seated versus out of the saddle, his response was revealing.

"Everything related to pedalling is not really good," he said with a wry chuckle.

It was hardly a ringing endorsement of his own prospects at a race where he'll have to pedal for 21 stages straight. The injury to the kneecap, which collided with his handlebars during a recent training camp and forced him to miss the Belgian championships, has apparently cleared up, but it's still on his mind.

First of all, it derailed what had been a clean run-in to the Grand Départ in Copenhagen, forcing him to leave the bike aside at a time when he was due to be applying the finishing touches to his form.

"If this was ideal preparation, then everyone would take a week off the bike before the Tour, and no one is doing this," Van Aert pointed out.

"Mentally it's not the easiest way to approach a Tour, but I want to give 100% like I always do."

On top of that, there's the question mark over whether the issue has been fully resolved, and whether the pain may resurface as the Tour heads through Denmark and then around France.

"I listened to my body and fortunately I don't feel pain anymore, but you need to be careful every day. It's definitely not ideal," he said.

Van Aert will target the green jersey at this year's Tour and will look at one stage at a time, with no real gaps in terms of the days where he can hunt points, if not win. First up is the short opening time trial around Copenhagen on Friday, where Van Aert would ordinarily be the biggest threat to world champion Filippo Ganna.

"It's been a really big goal for me all season to go for the stage win on the first day and take the yellow jersey as well," he said. "I've worked really hard, done a lot of hours on the TT bike, and I don't want to give up now after one setback.

"I don't know if it will be possible [to be in top form on Friday]," he added. "I just hope that on a short effort like this, all the training from the previous months has not completely disappeared."

Van Aert explained that his knee injury affected him more on his time trial bike, but that the accrual of kilometres was arguably the biggest limiting factor.

"I'd say that standing on the pedals there's even less tension because of the angle of the knee. The most friction I have is with the deep squat – it was really on top of the kneecap where I had the impact.

"Maybe if you look at that, it's more painful on the TT bike, but the most pain I'll have this week are the long rides. The longer I have to pedal, the more stress there is on the knee."

Van Aert therefore starts the Tour de France braced for pain and slightly unsure of himself. It doesn't stop there, either. At two recent races his team have suffered COVID-19 outbreaks, and only this morning their lead director, Merijn Zeeman, tested positive.

In the end, it was a non-verbal answer that perhaps said it best; Van Aert raised his hand and slapped the wooden desk in front of him. 

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