Wout van Aert: I don’t think I have to prove anything
In previous years, Wut van Aert warmed up for Milan-San Remo publicly reviewing their extensive repertoire in early March. This time his approach to the race was more whisperbut he is still expected to play all the familiar notes for Cipressa and Poggio on Saturday afternoon.
“I think my form is worse than last year,” Van Aert told reporters earlier in the week. “Last year I was already very good on the first weekend and Paris-Niceand it was important to maintain this level. This time I hope to improve a little.”
In 2021, Van Aert won a couple of stages and finished second overall in a particularly intense Tirreno-Adriatico stage, a performance that proved his off-road ability. However, despite winning the Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race later that spring, it was hard to shake off the nagging feeling that he may have given too much of himself in March.
Wout van Aert left Strade Bianke due to illness that interrupted training
Two weeks of lost training leaves Wout van Aert chasing his fitness in Tirreno Adriatico.
Tirreno-Adriatico echelon attack inspires Wout van Aert
Two years later, his buildup was completely different, although Van Aert emphasized that it happened by accident and not by design. After a bout of illness interrupted his training in February, he decided to cancel his planned seasonal debut at Strade Bianchewhile the Tirreno-Adriatico was essentially relegated to the status of a preparatory race.
“Originally, we planned to start in Strada in great shape and then keep it all spring. Now it’s more about moving in that direction,” said Van Aert, who was mostly content to play a supporting role for winner Primoz Roglic in Italy last week.
The only stage that Van Aert noted in the road book, the uphill final at Tortoreto, was destroyed by his own crash in the final, but the incident did not result in serious injury. Although he did not get a noteworthy result, he could very well get what he needed from Tirreno-Adriatico.
“It doesn’t bother me that I didn’t win the Tirreno round, it wasn’t the most important thing in the race,” Van Aert said. “But like I said beforehand, it’s important to have a goal, so I really wanted to go for it that day. [in Tortoreto]. If I didn’t have legs, it would be unpleasant, but falling, of course, was also very unpleasant.”
To date, Van Aert’s only Victory at Monument has come at the pandemic-postponed 2020 Milan-San Remo race, when he tracked Julian Alaphilippe over Poggio and then overtook the Frenchman in a thrilling final on Via Roma. When he was told that, therefore, he had nothing more to prove in SpringVan Aert was politely indignant at the silent hint that he still had business in other Monuments, especially in Tour of Flanders And Paris-Roubaix.
“Despite the fact that people are saying more and more that I have to win almost everything, I don’t think I need to prove anything,” Van Aert. “I want to win every important race and that motivation is there in San Remo even though I have already won it. Rhonda has it too. I’m at the beginning with the same goal.”
Later, when van Aert was asked about the perception that his current Monuments score was not yet up to his ability, he took the diplomatic line: “I think that says a lot about expectations, but in the end it’s positive that people look to you.” I love that kind of respect.”
Such is the respect given to Van Aert by his peers, meanwhile, a straw poll of riders at the pre-race presentation at Abbiategrasso on Friday afternoon showed he was the clear favorite for Milan-San Remo despite his lack of results so far in 2023. The tag is shared , however, with an inimitable Tadej Pogacarwho so dominated Paris-Nice last week, and Van Aert admitted that the very presence of the Slovenian changes the dynamics of the race.
“I think so anyway. He really made the race harder last year and attacked the Poggio countless times and I used up my best bullets there. It’s different than getting one real boost or not racing until the very end,” Van Aert said.
“In recent years, the race has turned into a race for strikers and Tadej is probably the strongest opponent for all of us. You never know where he is going to start, but he will definitely make the race difficult for all of us.”
Van Aert will be backed by the formidable Jumbo-Visma team, even as he suggested racing for a team with multiple options is less important in Milan-San Remo than on the cobblestones. “Christophe Laporte would normally be a little shorter than me, but he was sick and is still coming back,” he said. “At Sanremo I’m more of a striker for the team, but at the Flemish Classic we’ll all start at the same level.”
And yet, despite Milan-San Remo following a familiar pattern every year right up to the finals, the last half hour of the race holds its breath as rivals face a fast succession of split-second decisions. Even the smallest choice can have huge consequences, and the smallest gaps can stubbornly not close on the descent from Poggio to San Remo.
“This is a special race in which everything has to go right, and not the best automatically come out on top. But I always feel that when you give your 100%, you make the best decisions,” Van Aert said. “It can be hard not to react to attacks, but sometimes you have to take risks and I think I do it too little or race too nervously. I am still studying.”