Wout van Aert says his goal of taking the yellow jersey in the first week of this summer's Tour de France is "no longer realistic" after having his appendix removed three weeks ago.
The Belgian had been targeting the maillot jaune of the French Grand Tour, with the first week providing sprint stages affording bonus seconds as well as a time trial that should suit the Jumbo-Visma rider, but has had to "start from scratch" after surgery.
"That operation brought me to a standstill for another week. Four weeks after the Amstel Gold Race I had to start over from scratch. You can compare that to a winter break," Van Aert told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.
Van Aert is now able to ride again without any problems, despite the fact the surgery had to pass through his navel as well as three places in his abdominal muscles, and even managed 40km on his time trial bike last week.
Jumbo-Visma are currently on an altitude training camp in Sierra Nevada, Spain, where Van Aert is building back up after a demanding spring Classics campaign.
"In principle, I can achieve a good level of form through training and altitude internships, but it is uncertain what level I will be able to achieve," Van Aert said. "Every day I try to push my boundaries without forcing it. The fact that the Dauphiné has been scrapped [for him] gives me room to build up quietly."
Unfortunately, the reality of needing this extra time to reach his top level means Van Aert doesn't think he'll be at the height of his powers for the first week of the Tour de France, but will still likely prove to be a key lieutenant to Primož Roglič later on in the race, and believes he's on track for his other objectives: the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Road World Championships and Paris-Roubaix.
"The original plan was to grow to my best form after the Dauphiné and to be top from the first Tour week," Van Aert explained. "That first week consists of difficult sprint rides and a time trial. That suits me very well. I had made a big goal of the yellow jersey in the first week, I fear that this is no longer realistic. I will have to have more patient until I will be really top this summer.
“I still hope to be on top form during the Tour, but that is anything but a certainty. If that doesn't work, I am sure that I will be top after the Tour. I'm not worried at all about Tokyo and the autumn, with the World Cup and Paris-Roubaix. If everything now goes according to plan and I can complete my training without delay, I can take many steps. Such a setback is never convenient, but because of what I have already experienced in the past, I can better manage this period."
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