Wout van Aert thinks he "paid the toll of a long season" last year, where he "was trying to peak for every big race".
Instead in 2022, the Jumbo-Visma rider has said that he will be more selective in his targets, as he has to "dose" his energy, "occasionally saving something".
"My goals are later in the spring," Van Aert said. "Hence the conscious choice to build a really broad base. Hopefully, I'll have some extra explosiveness after the first races, so that I’m at my best for Milan-San Remo, then I want to extend that form to Paris-Roubaix."
While other riders have been racing in stage races like the Volta ao Algarve and the Ruta del Sol, Van Aert has been training away from the action. He cut his cyclocross season short in order to focus on the road, missing the World Championships where he would surely have been favourite to take the title. The Belgian will also skip Strade Bianche, a race he won in 2020, in order to focus on his bigger objectives.
"I think the guys who already have two short stage races in their legs will have a little advantage in the opening weekend," Van Aert said. "The effect of my altitude camp will come a little later and should give us that little bit extra in March-April."
Jumbo-Visma have brought in reinforcements for their classics squad for this season, with Tosh van der Sande and Tiesj Benoot slotting straight into the Opening Weekend team. The return of Mike Teunissen from injury should also benefit Van Aert and the team's overall ambitions.
However, the Belgian was keen to downplay their chances at the first classic of the season, especially if it turns into a "battlefield".
"Omloop is more of a test for us to see how we can race together as a team," he said. "Of course, we want to achieve a result. We’ll start Omloop with ambition but absolutely not with a knife to our throat.
"Omloop is also a special race. Last year a large group came together for the finish. If that’s also the case this year, then I assume that we'll still be there with a number of guys and we’ll still be able to take a shot at winning.
"If it turns into a battlefield, we might be just that little bit short.”
The improvement of Jumbo-Visma has not gone unnoticed, with Kasper Asgreen referencing it at Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl's pre-Opening Weekend press conference this week. As well as increased firepower, the aim is to not leave Van Aert isolated at the end of races, as has happened at races like the Tour of Flanders and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic in recent years.
“It should no longer happen that I’m alone in the run-up to the final. I believe that will no longer be the case,” he said.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve worked on and off the bike. We now form a close-knit group, tactics have been thought through, races from previous years have been reviewed and analysed. It’s about more than attracting some good riders to the team.”
He won 13 races last year, including three stages at the Tour de France, but thinks he has learned lessons from his exploits moving forward.
“I wasted a lot of energy at the Tour of Britain. I will certainly take that lesson with me going forward,” he said. He won four stages and the overall at the stage race in September.
“Physically I was still okay in Paris-Roubaix," he continued. "But I paid the toll of a long season where I was trying to peak for every big race. That is why I now have a different preparation. With the intention of being at my best only from Milan-San Remo.”
Unlike last year, he will not be going full steam ahead into Tirreno-Adriatico, where he won two stages and came second on general classification in 2021. Instead he will be heading to Paris-Nice, with lesser ambitions.
“In a short period of time like the spring, you have to grab what you can," he said. "I want to help the team, also go full in the time trial and also go for a stage win, but not every day. I’ve got to dose my energy, occasionally saving something when I can so I’m not at a disadvantage when the big races come."
In news that might worry his rivals, he said that his training has meant he will start with a "much better based condition", and that he was feeling "very relaxed" in doing so.
“Usually you first try to build your base as wide as possible and gradually increase the intensity from January. However, because of cyclocross, that intensity comes a bit faster for me and I have to be especially careful to avoid being in shape too quickly with a base that is too narrow,” van Aert explained.
“That’s why I focused on endurance training and only a little more sprint work during the training camp in Alicante in January. We avoided that kind of work in Tenerife and put in a lot more hours. As a result, I’ll start with a much better base condition.”
“It also provided a big mental benefit; I was able to train very relaxed. In the past few years, there was usually a race against time to be ready. Last year I fought for two weeks in Tenerife to get that good feeling and I only succeeded at the last minute. This time it all went much smoother. And hopefully, at the end of the spring, my form will be that bit less unpredictable.”
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