The outbreak of illness wiping star riders from WorldTour line-ups this season looks to be continuing apace at the Tour of Flanders, with uncertainty growing over whether Wout van Aert will line-up for Jumbo-Visma this Sunday.
The Belgian’s team announced he would not be taking part in the course recon on Thursday afternoon, with sports director Grischa Niermann breaking the news that it’s touch and go whether their leading man will be healthy enough for the race in three days’ time.
“His participation in the Tour of Flanders is unlikely,” Niermann said, the team wanting to get out ahead of any rumours that may begin to circulate when the jersey of the Belgian champion is not amongst the squad recce this afternoon.
“He doesn’t feel fit and that’s why he stays at home. Unfortunately, we have to do without him today,” Niermann continued. “Of course, we have to admit that there is a chance that he will not race. If he’s not there, we’ll have to change our plan. It’s a big disappointment and a setback because we can’t replace [him].”
While the mouthwatering prospect of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert going head-to-head once more looks to be in jeopardy, the likes of Kasper Asgreen, Tom Pidcock and Tadej Pogačar should still provide stiff competition. For Jumbo-Visma all is not necessarily lost, as they will likely now turn to the talents of Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte, runners-up at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem, respectively, this past week.
“We have a team that is in good shape and two riders who are among the best,” Niermann said. “Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte.”
Wout van Aert could now have to wait another year before trying to add Flanders to his palmarès, which already contains one Monument victory in the shape of Milan-San Remo. Should his illness be relatively minor, the 27-year-old could still line up this month at Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Roubaix in the next two weeks.