The Belgian champion was the spring's standout man after winning both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, but he was ruled out of the Tour of Flanders due to Covid and his participation at Roubaix was deemed unlikely until just a few days ago when it was announced he would be riding as a domestique.
In the end, Van Aert was one of the day's most energetic and attacking riders, and his performance was vindication of his selection.
"I’m definitely not disappointed to finish second, because it’s good to feel this good in the race," the Jumbo-Visma man told the press afterwards.
"I'm happy and proud to finish second. In the final, I was able to drop the others we were still in the break with, and we raced to the finish [together]. Dylan only gained time on us, so the strongest won. Everybody has his own story at Roubaix, and I’m just really happy to be on the podium.
"Everything felt a bit different coming into the race, but once you feel in the race that everything feels quite normal, like it was, then you really change your mind quite quickly and go to your normal habits.
"My normal habits are how to win this race, how to stay out of trouble, and try to pick the right moments. From the moment I felt good, it was quite easy to transition to this normal thinking."
Van Aert confirmed that the decision to race was a "collective decision between the team, the medical staff, my own doctor, my coach and also how I was feeling", adding that "we did the checks that were necessary and then it was just how I felt in training."
He added: "Amstel [Gold, last week] was, for sure, too early, but in the last few days I felt a lot better. I didn't lose my form too much and of course it was a good decision."
Although second was a highly-impressive result, many will be wondering if a fully-fit Van Aert would have gone onto win.
He himself admitted to such thoughts, but preferred not to over-indulge on the matter. "Looking back can always be nice at times, but it can be difficult at times as well. I’m in a struggle between these two," he answered.
"Of course, everything went good this year until two days before Flanders. Without the sickness, it would have looked a lot better now. I was really ready for this period, and even though not everyone believes me, today I showed that after sickness I’m still able to ride to a podium. That makes me proud and is a confirmation that I was right to keep believing.
"Even if I was at 100 percent, there are 180 riders who are at the top of their game. It's bike racing - it's not that easy. Of course, it would have been different [had he not been ill] because I would have done two more races. After Flanders had passed, I had to accept that and move on."
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Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.
Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.
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