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Wout van Aert: Strade Bianche is one of the strongest fields of the year

Belgian Wout Van Aert of Team JumboVisma pictured in action during the Strade Bianche one day cycling race 184km men from and to Siena Italy Saturday 01 August 2020 BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM Photo by DIRK WAEMBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) on his way to victory in Strade Bianche in 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

After winning the race just six months ago, Jumbo-Visma star Wout van Aert is set to defend his Strade Bianche title on Saturday.

The Belgian rode a course recon on Thursday afternoon ahead of his latest showdown with Alpecin-Fenix's Mathieu van der Poel, as well as World Champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and more big names besides.

Speaking after his ride, Van Aert said that Saturday's race, only its 15th edition, will see him go up against one of the strongest pelotons of the season, adding that the race will be a lot different to the heat and dust of last August.

"It's one of the strongest fields of competitors we'll see this year," Van Aert said. "It's wise to keep an eye on more riders. Traditionally, a lot of climbers participate in this as well: Fuglsang, Pogačar, Bernal... That shows how important this race has become.

"The gravel roads are a little better than last summer; it's also a lot colder. If it stays as dry as it is now, it will be treacherous. Tomorrow they are predicting a little rain, it will depend on that, whether the dust is compacted or not."

While many of his competitors have been getting in early-season race days, including at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne at the weekend, Van Aert has been at a training camp on Mount Teide to prepare for his spring campaign.

Preparation has been going well, Van Aert said, adding that he feels ready to face off against those contenders with race days in their legs despite his lack of action.

"Especially in the last week I felt really good there," he said. "I do think I'm ready for racing."

During his training camp, Van Aert posted up fastest times on 14 different segments on Strava but he played down the importance of the personal bests.

"It's not that hard to ride personal Strava records. The feeling is more important, that and the wattages. That was all fine, but I just like to share what we're doing. That's all there is to it.

"I really needed those three weeks to prepare for the busy month coming up. The Opening Weekend was a bit 'in the way' after the cyclo-cross season ended."

Van Aert also ran the rule over the performance of two of his rivals at Opening Weekend – Van der Poel and Alaphilippe. Neither man got a top result at either race, but were both prominent actors during the weekend, both racing aggressively and going on long-range attacks.

"I think Alaphilippe and Van der Poel both made it a tough race by attacking from far away. Mathieu of course looked very strong, that was impressive.

"Other than that, they were strange scenarios with a big group going to the finish twice. When I rode Omloop, that wasn't the case. Maybe the conditions were a little easier this time."

Van Aert wears the number one dossard on Saturday as defending champion. He leads a Jumbo-Visma squad that include Tobias Foss, Robert Gesink, Chris Harper, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Paul Martens and Timo Roosen at the race.

Cyclingnews will have full live coverage of the men's and women's editions of Strade Bianche, followed by race reports, news and interviews. Live coverage of the men's 2021 Strade Bianche starts at 11:40 am CET. For more information on how to watch live coverage of the race, visit - How to watch Strade Bianche 2021 – live TV and streaming.

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Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in August 2019 after working as a freelance journalist for seven years, including time spent working for Cyclingnews and sister magazine, Procycling.