Tour of Flanders: Wout Van Aert, a cycling champion from afar



“Let’s be honest, he wasn’t the one we expected and we were wrong. “ Big boss of the cycling press in Belgium, the daily columnist The last hour, Eric de Falleur, admits his astonishment to see the rider of the Jumbo Visma team so high in the charts. And in the polls for the bouquet at the Tour of Flanders, the most important classic of the spring with Paris-Roubaix, postponed to October 3 due to the health crisis. “We are also surprised to see the enthusiasm it arouses in France. Admittedly, it worked well on the last two Tours and that’s what made it noticed with you, but for us the great champion of the future is the young Remco Evenepoel (1) , explains the journalist.

A popular Flemish in Wallonia

For the Tour de France 2019 which made him known to the French public, Wout Van Aert was not on the first list of his training. He learned the news three weeks before departure and almost … declined his employer’s offer. It is because this powerful and skilful runner who was almost 25 years old in July 2019, an age when all the grown-ups have in principle already been talked about, seemed confined to the classics. And above all in cyclocross, a Flemish specialty which competes severely in terms of TV audience and financial interest with all road races, except the Tour of Flanders.

“He put one wheel on the road, then two, and walked really well right away. The victories followed one after another: he won Milan-San Remo, the Strade Bianche. Even recently, he climbed on the podium of a stage race (2e on Tirreno Adriatico, Editor’s note), he is the first to be surprised to succeed everywhere, and he sometimes laughs about it ”, continues Eric de Falleur. Good boy, very popular in Belgium, Flemish as well as Walloon, this boy born twenty-six years ago near Antwerp does not hesitate to speak French. And he showed his versatility and humor in a video that toured the country in minutes.

The handyman of his team

We see the ” Swiss knife “ (one of his nicknames) sweeping, serving breakfasts in hotel rooms, cleaning the team’s bus with a water jet, carrying the suitcases of its leader, Primoz Roglic. At the end of the day, his clerk of the course gives him a pat on the back from the car, giving him the last task: “If you want, go also win the sprint”. What the model employee sets out to do, with the same success as other jobs. A few days earlier, the boss could just as well have sent him to win a time trial, a flat stage, or even accompany the strongest in the mountains …

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Champions of this caliber, Belgium has had and will have others. Belgian followers often compare him to Eric De Vlaminck (the time trial in addition) and Freddy Maertens (the climbs in addition). He could therefore become world champion, string together victories in the great classics, slip onto a podium in a one-week stage race. But the Grail, a victory on one of the three great tours, starting with that of France? “That’s another matter. Besides, I didn’t expect to progress so much in the passes ”, recently explained to the Dutch-speaking sports press the person concerned, who has the wisdom to be satisfied with what he has.

Rivalry with Mathieu Van der Poel

When you’ve been screwed to a hospital bed and a chair, you realize how pleasant it is to pedal. I didn’t think about it before, it flowed naturally, explains this boy who had a terrible fall during the time trial in Pau on the 2019 Tour. Since this accident, I have really enjoyed riding and I often tell myself, while training, that I love my job. “” At the time, he was not so well known, we quickly moved on. But frankly, come back after this fall, hats off ”, declares Eric de Falleur.

This six-month struggle in rehabilitation centers made him a courageous and accessible hero in the public opinion. His spat after the Tour of Flanders 2020 with his eternal rival, Mathieu Van der Poel (they had disputed a stormy sprint, won by Van Der Poel), did not weaken his popularity. Especially since he had the intelligence to apologize to his Dutch competitor ultra-popular in Belgium, where he lives and trains. Thank you Mathieu for pushing me to my limits for years ”, he then posted on the social network Instagram. Before, perhaps, to find his revenge with the regular one from Sunday, on the cobblestones of Flanders.

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Cyclocross school

The track or the mountain bike served as a launching pad for the champions of the 2010s, Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans or Peter Sagan. Many young Belgian and Dutch riders prefer the very lucrative cyclocross industry. Wout Van Aert and Mathieu Van der Poel have monopolized the last seven world titles. This discipline, more widely practiced in France, is all the rage in Flemish Belgium. To attract the best, the organizers of the thirty or so major annual races are putting up to € 10,000 in a commitment purse on the table. Without counting the bonuses of victories or sponsorship.

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