By Gregor Brown published
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) says the mental aspect is the hardest part in transitioning from cyclocross to the road this season.
Van Aert made his top-tier debut in 2018 at Strade Bianche as a three-time cyclocross world champion.
He returns to the race on Saturday (March 9) after placing third in 2018, and racing a full cyclocross season this winter.
"It's not that hard, it's just doing the long bike rides," Van Aert said on the change, after finishing a preview ride of the Strade Bianche gravel sectors.
"And if you love riding it doesn't feel hard. Actually for me it's quite easy because of this intensity I had during the winter and these long rides are just fun to do. And also in Girona last month was super nice weather. The only things that are hard are in your head."
Van Aert nearly won the 2018 Strade Bianche, but cramped on the final ramps to Siena's famous Piazza del Campo. He held on for third behind winner Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale). He went on to place ninth in the Tour of Flanders and 13th in Paris-Roubaix.
Now riding with a WorldTour team and with the performance of last year, the pressure seems to be increasing.
"That's a normal question but I think that now because I'm in a WorldTour team and with my experience from last year's team it is automatically better," he said.
"Last year, I had a chance to hang on to the group of the favourites all the time. Only here at Strade Bianche I was able to ride aggressively. Now my goal is to race aggressively in the final of all the spring races and maybe my results will not be better but my performance is improving, so then I will be happy. If it's not improving, well I'm still 24 and it's my second year only in the spring classics so we will see.
"As we say in Dutch, you steal in with your eyes. It literally means two watch a star like Greg Van Avermaet attack in certain sections, and it's always important to keep your eyes open and try to learn from them and try to steal their tricks. And that's what I tried to do. I guess I'm still young and have a bunch of years coming where I can improve my skills."
Van Aert left his pervious team Vérandas Willems-Crelan on bad terms a year early. He and the team management are locked in a legal battle, but he was able to race his cyclocross season as an independent, placing second at Worlds, and begin with Dutch WorldTour team Jumbo-Visma from the start of March.
"Mentally I feel very hungry and I don't feel that I had a long winter behind me. I'm fresh again and motivated then to start all over with my new team. It's really good and it's a good atmosphere," he added.
"Of course it was a struggle last winter. We will see how it goes but I do not like to look for excuses beforehand and I just want to try my best in this whole classics season. Afterwards we will analyse and see how we can do better in the future."
Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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