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).
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,”
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.