How good a cyclist is Wout van Aert? Ask one of his rivals. “We have to be honest,” said cyclocross rider Toon Aerts, after van Aert won the first cyclo-cross competition he raced in nearly a year by nearly 2 minutes. “If you see how van Aert rode away, it could be a Christmas period without victories [for us].”
That ride-away victory came on December 4 in the Superprestige Boom, after a two-month break from competitive cycling and after the 27-year-old Belgian had crashed in the mud on the penultimate lap. “It is unbelievable what Wout van Aert has done here,” added Aerts who finished second, 1:42 behind. The three-time cyclo-cross world champion is better known to the world as the best domestique in the world, having ridden in support of Jumbo-Visma teammate Primož Roglič in the past three Tours while showing strength in every aspect of the race, from sprint to climbing, and winning six stages along the way.
So, when van Aert said he is aiming to win the Green Jersey in next year’s Tour, everybody in the cycling community paid attention. “Next year, I really want to go for the Green Jersey,” Van Aert told Het Laatste Nieuws. “And we will make a plan that fits in the general team tactics.” He insisted that he would be able to concentrate on his green dream and also continue to ride in support of Roglič’s GC ambitions. “My point is that if I go for the green, I expect the team to support me in that,” he said. “And it would be a bit strange [for me] to say, ‘Primož, I won’t help you’.”
Today was a good day 😎 https://t.co/yEHd556KJg
— Wout van Aert (@WoutvanAert) December 12, 2021
If there are any sceptics around who doubt that the Belgian has the chops to beat the likes of seven-time ŠKODA Green Jersey winner Peter Sagan; last year’s Green Jersey winner Mark Cavendish whom Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme called “the greatest sprinter in the history of the Tour and of cycling”; 2020 Green Jersey winner Sam Bennett; and the very fast but hard-luck Australian Caleb Ewan, all they need to do is look at the finish of this year’s final stage of the Tour de France.
In what may be the most prestigious mass sprint in the world, on the famed Champs-Élysées in Paris, van Aert blew away the competition, which included Cavendish who was attempting to break the Tour de France stage win record of van Aert’s legendary countryman Eddy Merckx and had already secured the Green Jersey win.
There is also a possibility that van Aert’s great rival in all competitions, Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel, could try to expand their rivalry to include the Tour Green Jersey. Unfortunately, the Dutch rider crashed in training and injured a knee. His status at the time of writing was unknown.
But if van der Poel recovers and if all the other noted sprinters show up healthy and in form in Denmark for the Grand Départ next July, that would turn the points classification race into a competition to rival that for the Yellow Jersey.
Who is the favourite? The fastest rider with the best team and the most luck.