‘Certainly the strongest driver in this race’: What can’t Wout van Aert do?

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As the Tour de France draws to its now customary end on the Champs-Élysées, few would argue that Wout van Aert was the race’s best rider.

He may not wear the yellow jersey, but he’s been everything from stage winner to green jersey wearer, race maker, workaholic and man of the match. The combativeness prize which was awarded to him unanimously testifies to the investment he put into all three weeks.

“I think Wout has definitely been the strongest driver in this race,” Jonas Vingaard said ahead of the Stage 21 rollout. “Having him by my side has been amazing the last three weeks.”

Go green

Jumbo-Visma arrived in Denmark with two massive goals and three leaders, green for Van Aert and yellow for Primož Roglič or Jonas Vingaard, which raised many eyebrows. Van Aert had never tried going green before. Roglič had come close, but none of the GC leaders had won the Tour. Against a Tadej Pogačar supported 100% by UAE Team Emirates, had Jumbo-Visma shot himself in the foot?

In the end, it was anything but a weakness. Looking back, it’s clear that Van Aert and his team had identified an opportunity to consolidate his lead in the points standings before the critical moment in the mountains, meaning the Belgian could give his team-mate more time and effort. where it really mattered.

The bonus seconds that accompanied his incredibly consistent start put him in the lead in both yellow and green, so his first Tour stage victory will be unforgettable.

His run of second places in the early stages was a strange first chapter for the Belgian, but by stage 5 he already had a 52-point lead, thanks in part to his defiant victory the day before. Another stage win in Lausanne – far from a pure sprint – put him comfortably in the lead, and he used a number of breakaways to extend his advantage.

This tactic became all the more valuable as they were hit with bad luck and their teammates fell, forcing a frantic, cobblestone chase in week one and leaving them with six riders for the Pyrenees. But the green jersey was mathematically sealed by the last mountain stage, so he was able to resume his team role.

mountain goat

Van Aert showed he was capable on long climbs with his victory on the Ventoux stage last year, but there was the caveat that it was a breakaway victory. That said, he was in a group with Julian Alaphilippe, who would normally beat him on the more difficult slopes.

So his climbing ability was known, but his longevity at this race was astounding.

That he passed so many mountain stages in the breakaway and that he came so close to taking the KOM jersey on stage 18, demonstrates his strength on all terrains and shows how much he has been prolific on the 2022 Tour.

The pinnacle, however, is the unfathomable fact that it was he, and not Vingaard, who finally dropped Pogačar on the Hautacam, having been in the breakaway of the day after attacking literally at kilometer zero.

The Hautacam was one of the highlights of Van Aert’s race, dropping Pogačar and setting up Vingaard for a race-confirming Stage 18 victory.

“We wanted to take time and we succeeded. I’m also surprised it turned out so well. In the end, I was able to completely separate myself from Jonas,” said Van Aert after stage 18. “It was really a crazy day for me. I know I can be very strong one day in the mountains when I focus on that.

The Belgian could not have stayed with Vingaard at the Col du Granon, nor in the last four kilometers of Hautacam. He’s not going to challenge yellow anytime soon. But Vingaard has plenty to thank him for.

Against the watch

The former Belgian time trial champion came close to winning the opening time trial in Copenhagen, beaten only by surprise winner Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), so he tackled the stage 20 from Saturday with a vengeance (and two stage wins to his credit). At 40 kilometers and with some significant bumps and bumps along the way, it could have been made for him.

It was thought that his closest rival would be world champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), but it was the first three of the GC who came closest.

In fact, it seemed that Vingaard had decided along the way that the scene should be for Van Aert. The Dane – who has never won a time trial as a professional – was fastest at every time check, but as he climbed the final hill to the finish his body language changed . The scene was that of Van Aert.

“I gave it my all today,” an unusually emotional Van Aert said after stage 20. “I want to win races, and today I had hoped to take the stage, and I was hoping Jonas could secure his yellow. He has such a big heart that he thought the same, so it’s special. It’s a beautiful day.

Vingeard had done what he set out to do on the TT bike. He had maintained and extended his lead over Pogačar, and he had already won a stage in the yellow jersey.

Van Aert was the first to congratulate/thank Vingaard when the Dane crossed the Stage 20 line, sealing the overall victory.

The yellow jersey crossed the line 19 seconds behind Van Aert’s time. For my part, I think he had the strength in him to take the TT – his advantage had diminished with each time check, but there was the climb ahead, and Van Aert had gained about 20 seconds in that part of the race. ‘stage. Vingeard was undoubtedly the best climber on the Tour, so chances are he could very well have taken his third stage victory.

But instead he paid off some of the debt he owes Van Aert, the best and most combative rider in the 2022 Tour de France.

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