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Barry Ryan

Wout van Aert hopes for 'another step forward' ahead of Tour de France

Wout van Aert

Wout van Aert’s consistency across the Tour de Suisse netted him the points classification but the Belgian has said that he still has margin for improvement ahead of the Tour de France.

The Tour de Suisse was Van Aert’s first race since he placed second at Paris-Roubaix in April, and it came after he had spent an extended period training at altitude at Sierra Nevada and in Switzerland. The Belgian will be a key element in Jumbo-Visma’s Tour squad as Jonas Vingegaard looks to defend his 2022 yellow jersey.

“I reached a good level during the week – maybe not my very best level yet, but I hope to take another step forward in the next two weeks by taking some extra rest,” Van Aert said, according to Het Laatste Nieuws. “I needed the incentive of racing to gain sharpness.”

The Tour de Suisse was overshadowed by the tragic death of Gino Mäder, and Van Aert acknowledged that thoughts of building pre-Tour form were put to one aside in recent days.

“Sport is less important for a while, so I don't know exactly where I stand,” Van Aert said. 

“These have been difficult days. There was a distinct atmosphere, which made it difficult to continue in the same way. I'm looking forward to going back home and getting out of the racing world for a while.”

The race was bookended by individual time trials. After placing third behind Stefan Küng and compatriot Remco Evenepoel on the opening day, Van Aert had to settle for fifth in the longer, hillier test to Abtwil on the final stage on Sunday.

“The feeling was good, but not special,” Van Aert said. 

“At the top of the climb, I wanted to press on, but it was difficult for me. Even without knowing my split times, I already had the feeling that it would not be enough. It went well, but I had hoped to be able to manager things a little better.

“I always start to win in a time trial, so it's always sobering when you don't win. But I think it is better to wait a while before drawing conclusions about how far behind my competitors I am.”

Van Aert returns to action later this week at the Belgian National Championships, where he will line out in the individual time trial on Thursday and the road race on Sunday. In addition to his five Belgian cyclocross titles, Van Aert was Belgian road champion in 2021 and he won the national time trial in 2019 and 2020. 

“I'm looking forward to it, the Belgian tricolour is a nice jersey,” he said. “I have already worn it a few times and will definitely try to conquer it again.”

Van Aert’s chief rival in both the time trial and road race this coming week will surely be Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep), who was also in action at the Tour de Suisse. 

The world champion placed third overall after winning the penultimate stage to Weinfelden and placing second in the final time trial.

“I came here knowing that I wasn't in great shape, but I managed to take a stage win and finish on the podium of this important race, which is good in the end,” said Evenepoel, who was making his first competitive appearance since he abandoned the Giro d’Italia with COVID-19 in May.

Evenepoel has already confirmed that he will not ride the Tour. He is scheduled to take in a training camp in the Val di Fassa in the Italian Dolomites in July in preparation for the World Championships in Glasgow, with the remainder of his 2023 programme yet to be decided.

“That's where we'll look at how my second half of the season goes,” Evenepoel said of his Italian sojourn. 

“But I can already say that I'll be taking part in San Sebastian and the World Championships.”

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