Wout van Aert continued his spectacular debut stage race for Jumbo-Visma at the Critérium du Dauphiné, outsprinting Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) after a technical stage 5 finale into Voiron. The victory means back-to-back stages for the young Belgian, after winning the individual time trial in Roanne on Wednesday ahead of Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb).
The two stage victories follow a third-place finish on stage 1 and a second-place finish on stage 3 and see van Aert lead the sprinter’s green jersey classification, as well as the best young rider’s classification with three tough mountain stages to come.
Van Aert is no stranger to consistency, finishing in the top-20 on five out of the six northern one-day Classics this spring and the Belgian believes getting these results breeds further success down the line.
“I think a good atmosphere and good results bring good results,” Van Aert said in the stage winner’s press conference. “If you feel good and when you have results in the previous days it’s always easier to perform again and harder to come back [from losses].”
After an incredible debut Dauphiné, the Belgian will follow the race with his first Grand Tour at the Tour de France next month, which was announced by Jumbo-Visma just ahead of the race. His performances this week have continued to raise his profile after two impressive Classics campaigns and the question was raised as to whether Van Aert can continue this success and target the green jersey at the Tour de France next month.
“I think this year, no [on targeting the green jersey at the Tour de France]. It’s my first Tour de France, I’m just happy to have a supporting role for the team. It’ll already be extremely difficult just to do the Tour de France, so it’s best to start in that supporting role.
“In the future, I will see. It’s the first time I’ve really been fighting for a points classification at a race here at the Dauphine. Of course, at the Tour de France, you have much more sprinters, here there is Sam Bennett, who is very, very strong but maybe less sprinters overall so I can get more points [here].
“Of course I am [scared at his debut Tour de France]. Obviously, it’s a very long race and all of the riders at the start of the Tour are a little bit scared. Not scared of not finishing the long stages, but it’s extremely hard to focus every day all of the time and stay healthy for three weeks.”
Having won the cyclo-cross elite world championships three times, Van Aert has been making headlines for several years now. Van Aert’s long-time ‘cross rival Mathieu van der Poel has had equal success across disciplines, winning De Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold Race, Dwars door Vlaanderen and GP Denain on the road this season, as well as the national, continental and world elite cyclo-cross championships.
The pair’s success, at just 24-years-old, perhaps showcases a successful route into WorldTour road racing but Van Aert and Van der Poel alike, remain equally focused on continuing to perform in both disciplines for the coming season.
“Of course, Mathieu [van der Poel] and myself have had some great results, it’s great, of course, for cyclo-cross but road racing is still extremely difficult. It’s not for all cyclo-cross riders.
“It’s not just preparation [for the road season], it’s still an objective for me this winter and I’ll make the most of the intensity.”
A rider with similar consistency on the road and success in both Classics and stage racing early in his career was compatriot Tom Boonen, who retired in 2017 as one of the great riders of his generation. Although Boonen’s debut Tour de France in 2004 was not his first Grand Tour, he did win the final stage into Paris on his way to six career Tour stage victories, as well as a green jersey.
Emulating even part of Boonen’s career would be a phenomenal achievement for Van Aert and something he admits he could look to in the future. Just how far Van Aert can go remains to be seen.
“Tom Boonen is a great name and he’s won a lot of races. Before achieving a career like his, the road is extremely long and I’m far from it yet. Of course, Boonen took advantage of the speed he had in his younger years and he was amazing in Classics. Maybe that’s objectives for me in the future.
“No [I don’t know my limits] and that’s a good thing.”