Van Aert: ‘Maybe it’s my best victory ever’
One day after taking a close second on stage 10 of the Tour de France behind the most accomplished sprinter in cycling history, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) powered to victory on stage 11. After two trips up and over Mont Ventoux.
The win was Van Aert’s fourth at the Tour de France, and just the latest in a long line of impressive performances for the three-time cyclocross world champ and Monument winner. After pulling off the victory, however, Van Aert suggested that winning a stage after ascending Mont Ventoux twice might top his sterling list of career achievements.
“I’m lost for words,” Van Aert said. “It’s so stupid to say it but of course I did not expect to win this stage before the Tour de France. But actually yesterday I already believed in it. I asked the team to be the guy to go for the breakaways. It’s one of the most iconic climbs in the Tour, in the world, in the world of cycling. Maybe it’s my best victory ever.”
Van Aert came into the race following a less-than-ideal buildup period after having his appendix removed in May. His Jumbo-Visma team was laser-focused on the GC ambitions of Primož Roglič, while Wout van Aert was eyeing the stage 5 time trial and a chance to build toward the Tokyo Olympics.
The first stretch of racing at the Tour did not go to plan for either Van Aert or his team. Roglič, Steven Kruijswijk, and Robert Gesink sustained injuries in crashes on stage 3, and Gesink abandoned. Van Aert finished fourth in the time trial. Roglič then pulled out of the race after stage 8, while Van Aert dropped from second overall down to 20th on stage 9.
Van Aert showed plenty of fight coming out of the rest day, however, nabbing runner-up honors in the sprint finish of stage 10. Then, on Wednesday, he put his incredible versatility on full display. Less than 24 hours after finishing just behind Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) in Valence, Van Aert was taking on one of the sport’s greatest climbs off the front in a breakaway that featured several other big names, including Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
In the end, Van Aert was able to hold on at the front as one after another of his rivals was dropped. He then bridged up to an attacking Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) before leaving him behind.
“I saw they suffered a lot,” Van Aert said of his rivals in the breakaway. “It was a really big battle to come there. I think [Julian] Alaphilippe had lost a lot of power already in that part of the race. If you believe in it, then everything is possible.”
After 11 days of racing that haven’t exactly gone according to plan for the team, Van Aert secured Jumbo-Visma’s first win of the Tour on Wednesday. Meanwhile, his teammate Jonas Vingegaard distanced race leader Tadej Pogačar on Mont Ventoux, if only temporarily. While Tony Martin was a DNF on the stage after crashing, Wednesday at least gave the Jumbo-Visma team – which came into the race looking like one of the strongest squads in the Tour – reasons to celebrate.
“In the first week we had so much bad luck with the team. Today, we lost again Tony martin in a crash,” Van Aert said. “This is so nice. If you keep being motivated and you keep believing, some day it will work out. I’m really proud.”