Belgian star Van Aert went into the elite men’s road race with the pressure of an entire nation on his shoulders, as the world champion was decided on the roads of his home region, Flanders.
Despite a dominant performance from the Belgian team, including a peerless support ride from Remco Evenepoel, Van aert just didn’t have the form to follow Alaphilippe, who launched a trio of devastating attacks in the final 20km.
Speaking after the finish, a visibly dejected Van Aert said: “The attacking started really early. I didn’t expect that so early.
“I expected it to be a difficult race for us. We kept cool and we were always in control, even in the final. We had Remco there as well as me and Jasper [Stuyven] which was what we’d hoped for, but my legs just weren’t good enough in the final.
“Once Alaphilippe kept attacking, I wasn’t able to follow and it was hard to fight because I knew it wasn’t for the win.”
Van Aert added: “On the Leuven circuit I felt my legs getting empty and told Stuyven I didn't have the legs. I'm only human after all. Alaphilippe was the strongest.”
The Belgian national champion was forced to settle for a finish just outside the top-10, as he finished in the third group on the road, 1-18 behind the winner Alaphilippe.
There had been a huge amount of expectation on Van Aert’s shoulders heading into the race, after he won four stages and the overall on the Tour of Britain heading into the race.
He had also claimed the silver medal in the elite men’s TT on the opening weekend of the Worlds, after a fascinating battle with eventual winner Filippo Ganna (Italy).
Despite the strength of the Belgian team in the men’s road race, the host nation came out of the 2021 Worlds without a rainbow jersey, as Van Aert’s second in the TT was the closest they came as the week of racing came to a close.
Alex is the digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter and now as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output.
Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) and joining CW in 2018, Alex has covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.
Away from journalism, Alex is a national level time triallist, avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
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