The winner of stage 10 at this year’s Tour clipped a barrier in the final two kilometres of the sole individual time trial in the 2019 edition of the Tour, with organisers drawing the roadside banners in front of him as the young rider lay on the road, waiting for medical assistance as other competitors rode past.
Van Aert was then taken to hospital with his team later confirming he had suffered a deep cut to his right leg.
“Last week, I had an operation in Pau and afterwards, I stayed in the hospital for four days,” Van Aert said. “Everything went well. I could walk on crutches and the doctor said I needed some time to recover. After that, I was transferred to another hospital. Over there, they examined me again. It seemed the first operation wasn’t enough to ensure the recovery. That’s why I needed a second one.”
This latest setback comes after the Belgian was set to spend two months off the bike, with his upcoming cyclocross season now hanging in the balance.
Van Aert was getting ready to return home to continue his recovery but eventually decided to stay in hospital as he hopes to return to racing as soon as possible. “At home we have a hospital bed ready but there’s no point going there if I can’t leave my bed. The crash has had a bigger impact than I initially thought.”
The 24-year-old has said he thinks he was in his “best shape ever” at the Tour, and is still following the action from his hospital bed as team-mate Steven Kruijswijk takes the third spot on the podium on the Champs-Élysées tonight.
“It hurts that I had to leave the Tour this way. It’s also a big disappointment for the team,” he said. “Maybe I was in my best shape ever and maybe I didn’t have the best legs during the time trial, but I was riding very well in the days before.
“Seeing how the team is performing now, I would have wanted to contribute. It’s very nice to see and follow, but it’s also painful.”
2019 has been Van Aert’s breakthrough season on the road, with podium places at Strade Bianche and the E3 BinckBank classic, before he took two stages and the points jersey at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
The young Belgian is also a celebrated cyclocross rider, having won the world championship for the past three years, but with the 2019 cyclocross season set to begin in October, it may be touch and go whether Van Aert recovers in time to re-find his form.