'Wout van Aert is not Pogačar or Bernal, they will always have an advantage in Tirreno GC,' says sports director

The Belgian star is looking to try his hand at going for the general classification and started off with stage success

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wout van Aert arrived at Tirreno-Adriatico in the hope of testing his legs in the general classification for the first time, after showing he is a very capable climber with excellent displays at the Tour de France and Critérium du Dauphiné.

Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has already shown he has amazing form, winning stage one of Tirreno-Adriatico in a bunch sprint with immense power to beat the likes of Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) to the line.

But Van Aert also hopes to test his abilities in the general classification at the week-long Italian stage race, but his team also admit he is at a disadvantage when compared with proven climbers like Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers).

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Jumbo-Visma's sports director, Merijn Zeeman, told Sporza: "It was our long-term plan that Wout wants to see how far he can get. It also has to do with sharpening his shape and going to the limit every day.

"In this way he can take a step on a physical level and on the other hand he can learn as a classification rider. We want to expand that and Wout wants that too."

The Belgian dominated across all disciplines in the rejigged 2020 season where he won bunch sprints, time trials, cobbled Classics, hilly stages and also performed in the mountains of the Tour de France in his role as a domestique. Whether that form can be continued after a full cyclocross programme is something he's looking to find out.

Zeeman continued: "I think he is ready, yes. Wout is of course not [Tadej] Pogačar or [Egan] Bernal. They will always have the advantage, but Wout feels good. He wants to explore his limits and see where his limits are. That always benefits you. We are curious.

"You don't become a classification rider overnight. We want to develop that. He is now trying it for the first time at WorldTour level and he must be given time to develop. The result is not important to us, but the experience is."

Van Aert missed out on defending his title at Strade Bianche as he didn't look to quite have the legs he had in 2020 to beat the likes of eventual winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), but he showed he definitely has the speed in the spring at Tirreno.

Team boss, Richard Plugge said in a piece by Het Laatste Nieuws: "If it turns out that he can also win stage races then we’ll also strive for that. The big plan is that he remains the best rider in the world. That's what he wants and that's what we want,"

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Van Aert himself was still unsure of how he will perform on the Prati di Tivo stage, the main mountain test with multiple large climbs with a summit finish.

"There is a mountain finish and that will tell me exactly what I want to know: how far can I go and how much [time] will I lose. I am realistic: hurting Pogačar on the climbs probably isn’t going to happen, but I want to know how well I can do, without too much expectation," said the Tour de France stage winner.

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Tim Bonville-Ginn

Hi, I'm one of Cycling Weekly's content writers for the web team responsible for writing stories on racing, tech, updating evergreen pages as well as the weekly email newsletter. Proud Yorkshireman from the UK's answer to Flanders, Calderdale, go check out the cobbled climbs!

I started watching cycling back in 2010, before all the hype around London 2012 and Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France. In fact, it was Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck's battle in the fog up the Tourmalet on stage 17 of the Tour de France.

It took me a few more years to get into the journalism side of things, but I had a good idea I wanted to get into cycling journalism by the end of year nine at school and started doing voluntary work soon after. This got me a chance to go to the London Six Days, Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain to name a few before eventually joining Eurosport's online team while I was at uni, where I studied journalism. Eurosport gave me the opportunity to work at the world championships in Harrogate back in the awful weather.

After various bar jobs, I managed to get my way into Cycling Weekly in late February of 2020 where I mostly write about racing and everything around that as it's what I specialise in but don't be surprised to see my name on other news stories.

When not writing stories for the site, I don't really switch off my cycling side as I watch every race that is televised as well as being a rider myself and a regular user of the game Pro Cycling Manager. Maybe too regular.

My bike is a well used Specialized Tarmac SL4 when out on my local roads back in West Yorkshire as well as in northern Hampshire with the hills and mountains being my preferred terrain.