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Wout van Aert might not ride the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, as Jumbo-Visma announced that the Belgian did not join the team's recon ride on Thursday.
Announcing the news on social media, the squad said that Van Aert's participation in Flanders was "unlikely".
The tweet read: "Wout van Aert is not feeling well, so he will not join the Tour of Flanders recon. His participation in the Tour of Flanders is unlikely."
The Belgian champion was the outstanding favourite for Sunday's Monument after winning two cobbled Classics already this season and the form of his Jumbo-Visma team.
On Wednesday, Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Mathieu van der Poel made a point of saying that he would need to be stronger in order to beat Van Aert at Flanders. Now he might not need to worry about his long-term rival.
"Unfortunately Wout is not joining in for the recon ride today," Jumbo-Visma directeur sportif Grischa Niermann said. "Unfortunately he's not feeling really fit and he's staying at home for that reason. We have to do it at least today without him.
"If we only miss him today for the recon ride it wouldn't be too bad, but of course we have to admit that now there's a chance he will miss the race."
Van Aert's absence would change the whole character of the race that was lining up to be him vs everyone else. In his place, Van der Poel, Tadej Pogačar or Tom Pidcock might have the chance to grab victory in Oudenaarde.
"In the moment I can't really say something," Niermann said. "If he feels fit and ready to race on Sunday morning, we might still let him race. Most likely we'll know by tomorrow how the situation is and how it evolves."
With the news coming on Friday, all of Belgium will wait with baited breath for the decision. Van Aert won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month, and then the E3 Saxo Bank Classic last week. He also showed his form at Gent-Wevelgem, attacking on the Kemmelberg.
His Jumbo-Visma team have looked like the squad of the classics so far, with Van Aert's victories being backed up by riders including Tiesj Benoot, Christophe Laporte, Mike Teunissen and Nathan van Hooydonck.
Laporte and Benoot have showed that they are in form to challenge as well, with the former finishing second at Gent-Wevelgem and the latter second at Dwars. However, Flanders is a whole different level.
"If that's the case [Van Aert being absent] we have to make a new plan, we have to change plans. It would be a very, very big setback," Niermann said. "We can't replace him, of course. On the other hand, we have a whole team in great form and two guys who are the best riders here: Tiesj and Christophe. We will make new plans then.
"It will change a lot for the race, not only for ourselves but for our competitors. Of course, we'll make new plans and start the race with the goal of winning."
Van Aert's rivals might be sleeping a bit easier on Saturday night if the Belgian remains absent.
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