Crash Ends Van Aert’s Spring Ambitions – And Perhaps More

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Wout van Aert’s Classics season ended in a split second on the road from Roeselare to Waregem in Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, when the Visma–Lease a Bike rider was involved in a high-speed crash and suffered a broken collarbone and fractured ribs. The crash occurred with about 70km to ride in the race, which is a warmup for Sunday’s prestigious Tour of Flanders. As a result of the accident, van Aert will miss that race, which had been his main goal this spring, as well as next week’s Paris-Roubaix.

“It is unclear how long his recovery will take,” Visma said in a statement, “but he will miss at least the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Amstel Gold Race.” His planned start at the Giro d’Italia, which begins on May 4, also seems doubtful. Last year, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) broke his wrist in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège and did not race again for a full two months. If van Aert does recover from his injuries in time, he will still have missed considerable training time, making a Giro start highly unlikely.

The crash occurred as the leading group of riders approached speeds of up to 60kph. According to fellow Belgian Jasper Stuyven (Lidle-Trek), who also broke his collarbone in the crash, van Aert provoked the accident by riding into the rear wheel of another rider. Speaking to HLN from the ambulance that took him to hospital, Stuyven said, “I saw it happening in front of me, but I couldn’t move. Wout tapped the rear wheel of a teammate, was thrown off balance and collided with my teammate Alex Kirsch. The two fell, and since I was just behind Kirsch, there was no way to avoid it. I went over my bike with my head and took a serious tumble, ending up on my left shoulder.”

Van Aert was one of the favorites for the race, as was Stuyven. Two other riders with chances for the victory, Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) and Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek), were also involved in the crash and dropped out of the race. However, they suffered no serious injuries. The race was won by van Aert’s promising young teammate, Matteo Jorgenson. The 24-year-old American was part of a group of five riders that had the race to themselves with 10km to go. Jorgenson outsmarted them all by becoming the last rider to make a break for the finish, and he rode the final 8km alone, crossing the finish line 29 seconds ahead of Jonas Abrahamsen (UnoX Mobility) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ).

This is the second race in a row in which the 29-year-old van Aert has crashed. He fell on a climb in the E3 Saxo Classic on March 22, but came out of it unhurt. However, it effectively ended his chances of winning the race, as he finished third behind Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceunick) and Stuyven. Such misfortune is rare in a rider with van Aert’s experience and bike-handling skills. He is a three-time cyclocross world champion, a winner of the Tour de France green jersey and nine Tour stages, and has won the E3 Saxo Classic twice as well as Milan–San Remo, Strade Bianche and Gent-Wevelgem.

But lately he has come under pressure for his losses to arch-rival van der Poel and his inability to win more Classics. According to the Belgian former rider and team sports director Johan Bruyneel, van Aert has become a target of Belgian former riders become commentators who cannot forgive him losing. “It is so difficult to be Wout van Aert in Belgium,” he said in his podcast. “Especially if he doesn’t win. It’s crazy how much criticism he gets.” For example, in 2023 Boonen and Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx slammed van Aert for gifting the victory of the Gent-Wevelgem to teammate Christophe Laporte, who is French.

Van Aert is obviously aware of what is written about him. In a recent interview, he said about his lack of success in the Classics, “It has not worked out a few times already. That makes me an underdog. Some people like that and are therefore fans of mine. Others are disappointed and criticize. If Tom Boonen or Rik Van Looy have given an interview, I don’t have to read it to know what it says. No one is immune to criticism, including me.”

In the same interview, van Aert talked about his disappointing 2023 and his ambition to make up for it this year. “I want to reverse and correct last year’s dissatisfaction,” he said. “Everyone knows me as someone who never gives up, but above all my goal is for them to know me as a winner. I work very hard for that.”

One has to wonder if the criticism and the recent lack of success has piled so much pressure on his shoulders that he has become self-conscious and tense, which can certainly affect performance. A more important question is how long it will take him to recover from his injuries and if there will be consequences for his other main goal for 2024, the Paris Olympics. Fingers crossed.