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Van Aert Targets Monuments and the World Championships in 2023

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Wout van Aert is arguably the best cyclist in the world, which is an astonishing thing to say about someone who has never won a Grand Tour and probably never will. But that’s not because the 28-year-old Belgian Jumbo-Visma rider couldn’t win a Giro or the Tour de France if he targeted those races. It is because, as he has often said, he also wants to ride on the cyclo-cross circuit after the road race season is over and would not be able to if he lost enough weight to be competitive in the Grand Tour mountains. This winter, Van Aert is having another impressive cyclo-cross season, winning the three Super-Prestige races he entered, as well as two of four UCI World Cup races he raced in, finishing second in the other two.

Van Aert is coming off another impressive road race season, finishing second in the UCI Men’s World Tour ranking for the year, behind Tadej Pogačar, and second in the voting for the Vélo d’Or, behind countryman Remco Evenepoel. His most impressive performance of 2022 – and perhaps in his entire career – came in the Tour de France, in which he helped teammate Jonas Vingegaard outduel two-time Tour winner Pogačar for the yellow jersey while also winning three stages, the overall Combativity Award and, most impressively, the ŠKODA Green Jersey. So it’s something of a surprise that he recently declared that the green jersey is not one of his priorities for the 2023 season. “Green was a great adventure but stage victories are more memorable and the world championship is the higher goal,” Van Aert told Sporza. “That’s why I don’t want to focus on the green points from the start.”

This year the UCI Road Race Championships take place in Glasgow starting on August 3, which is only two weeks after the Tour de France ends. It’s easy to understand Van Aert’s desire to win the World Championship. He has taken part in two World Championship time trials (in 2021 and 2022) and one road race (2022), and has finished second every time. So he may wish to dial back his ambitions in the Tour to conserve some energy for the greater dream. Though he has ruled nothing out.

The green jersey “can become a goal during the Tour,” he said in the Sporza interview, “but I will choose my days much more and in the final week, you still have many opportunities. You can then make choices and it is much more sensible that way.” But he will surely again be crucial to Vingegaard’s attempt to beat Pogačar and win a second Tour de France.

Wout van Aert
Van Aert at the 2023 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Belgium. © Profimedia

Van Aert’s other goals this year include making up for other missed opportunities in the past, including the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. He was down with Covid during last year’s Tour of Flanders and finished second (yes, again) in the Paris-Roubaix, which was won by his new Jumbo-Visma teammate Dylan van Baarle. “These are high, but also logical ambitions,” he said. “And I am extra motivated after what happened [last year].” But not only last year. In addition to three second-place finishes at the Worlds, Van Aert has only one Monuments win – in the 2020 Milan-San Remo – but has finished second in two and third in another two. Podium finishes are real accomplishments but coming close to winning can be frustrating.

Van Aert will kick off his road-race season relatively late, on March 4, with the Strade Bianche. “This way, I have a week longer to go on altitude training for Strade,” he explained. “The past has shown that altitude training is a formula for success.” After that, he will be very busy with the Tirreno-Adriatico, the Milano-San Remo, the 3 Saxo Classic and Gent-Wevelgem before getting to the heart of the season with the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France. Then come the Glasgow World Championships where he will be racing in both the road race and the ITT.

His ambitions for the road season have forced him to reluctantly skip the Belgian National Cyclo-Cross Championships, which were held on January 15 and which he had won five times in the last six years. “I have to make choices,” he said. “I have to take a period to train well and prepare for the road season.”