As Wout van Aert clipped off the front of the Tour de France peloton as it closed in on its destination of Issoire in a doomed attempt to bridge up to the day’s break, many onlookers took it as a valedictory attack.
Earlier that morning Lidl-Trek rider Mattias Skjelmose had told Danish television that he’d heard a rumour in the peloton that van Aert was to depart the race tomorrow to be with his pregnant wife in anticipation of the birth of his second child. So many thought the attack we were witnessing on the road was the Belgian's final roll of the dice.
But the Tour de France paddock’s tongues were suffering from a collective case of Braxton Hicks.
At the stage finish Van Aert immediately climbed on the bus before addressing the press with a broad simple of relief: “I just did a quick call to my wife to check if everything's alright and luckily she's doing fine. So I don't know where it's coming from but I'm in the Tour for hopefully as long as possible.”
Earlier his sports director Grischa Niermann had given a similar message when addressing the rumour, though his delivery was more sarcastic: “If you tell us the flight and when we have to bring him to the airport that would be great because we don't know anything about that.”
Van Aert added that the baby boy, the couple’s second, is not due until after the Tour de France.
Asked if this Tour had been more stressful than his previous ones given the potential for his wife to go into labour at any moment he said: “It's a different kind of stress, that's true. But on the other hand, it's it's still a super hectic bike race and there's so much going on that once I'm on the bike, I'm able to focus completely on riding.”
He added he had no idea where the rumour might have started. “Maybe there's some guys in the peloton that want me to go home,” he said.
If that’s the case they may still yet get their wish as van Aert said it was a “no brainer” that he’d leave the race if the birth of his son was imminent.
Though the chances of that seem slim if it were to happen it would complicate Jumbo-Visma’s ambitions of stage wins and their ultimate goal of keeping the yellow jersey on the back of Jonas Vingegaard in Paris.
Niermann added: “We have eight strong riders. And I think today again, we showed that we have the strongest team and I'm really proud of the boys but of course, Wout leaving would be a big loss.
But he backed van Aert’s decision to leave if he had to. “There are more important things in life. Before the Tour we knew that it was possible that he that he might have to go home because he wants to be there for the birth of his baby.
“We talked about that before the Tour. And if we hadn’t agreed with that we would have had to leave him at home.”
It seems the cycling world will have to wait to toast the arrival of van Aert junior and in the interim Daddy’s got a lot more bike racing to do.
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