Wout van Aert again sacrificed any thoughts of trying for victory on stage 14 of the Tour de France that finished in Lyon on Saturday, and worked instead to keep Jumbo-Visma team leader – and race leader – Primoz Roglic safe in the final kilometres of the stage.
“I thought about it,” Van Aert admitted to Het Laatste Nieuws of trying for what would be a third stage victory at this year’s race, “but when we saw during the meeting this morning [Saturday] how tricky the final was, it was also very important to keep Primoz at the front.
“I think we did that perfectly,” the 25-year-old Belgian continued, with Roglic finishing safely in the main group of favourites, with the Slovenian maintaining his 44-second advantage over compatriot Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), while defending Tour champion Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) remains third overall, another 15 seconds back.
“It was a lot of work for the team,” said Van Aert. “It was, of course, a final that suited me, but it was important that Primoz reached the finish unscathed and without losing time.”
On two out of the three occasions that Van Aert has so far been permitted to ride for his own chances in the finale, he’s been successful. As a leader at any other team, he would surely have been able to take two or three more stage wins, and would also have been a firm favourite in the fight for the green jersey.
Those two victories came when the three-time cyclo-cross world champion beat Cees Bol (Sunweb) and Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Sam Bennett in Privas on stage 5, and then Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT) and Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) in Lavaur on stage 7.
Both victories came ahead of taking third place in Poitiers on stage 11 behind Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Bennett, but only after Van Aert was shoulder-barged by Bora-Hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan in the sprint, with the move relegating Sagan to last place in the group.
But in what is only the Belgian’s second Tour de France, he seems more than happy to ride for the team and to keep learning, and has worked on the front for Roglic much longer on many of the climbs than might have reasonably been expected of him. Having been allowed the freedom to take those two stage wins certainly would have helped, and Van Aert may yet get other opportunities – not least on the Champs-Elysées for the final stage into Paris next Sunday.