Wout Van Aert was beaten in the uphill sprint by arch-rival Mathieu van der Poel at Tirreno-Adriatico on Friday but the Jumbo-Visma leader found a silver lining in defeat, extending his lead on his overall rivals to 20 seconds before Saturday’s vital mountaintop finish at Prati di Tivo.
“He’s always one of my biggest rivals but his team worked for it today. I was up there and had the legs to win and so that’s disappointing. But it’s not all negative today,” Van Aert said in the post-race press conference, keen to hose down any attempt to inflame his rivalry with van der Poel.
“Obviously we’re the same kind of rider. Maybe I have a bit more in high-speed sprints and Mathieu has something in uphill sprints or when we launch from slower speed. I think it depends on the form of the day and the details.”
The details made the difference in Gualdo Tadino and Van Aert seemed more disappointed to have been caught out by Alaphilippe’s late move to let Zdenek Stybar go clear in the final kilometre than his defeat in the sprint.
Decenunick-QuickStep were trying to outwit Van Aert and van der Poel and set-up Davide Ballerini for the sprint. Their plan only worked partially after Alaphilippe was caught too far back while leading out Ballerini and the Italian failed to get on van der Poel’s wheel.
Vans Aert was forced to chase down Stybar and so gave his rival a perfect lead out.
“It was a surprise for everyone and in one moment you had to decide what to do,” Van Aert justifying his ride in the finale.
“At that point I was aiming for the stage win and so I had to react if I still wanted a possibility to win. When I looked back and saw Mathieu on my wheel, I knew it was a bad situation but it was also a point of on return. Yeah, I led him out, he was in a perfect position and I wasn’t. But I took bonus seconds again today.”
Van Aert has collected a total of 20 bonus seconds across the three stages of Tirreno-Adriatico, thanks to his victory on stage 1, third place on stage 2 and his second place on stage 3.
Like a squirrel saving nuts for the winter, Van Aert has been collecting bonus seconds for his bid for overall victory.
He knows he has to limit his time loss to the best climbers and overall contenders like Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogacar on the 14km climb to Saturday’s finish at the Prati di Tivo ski resort in the Abruzzo mountains, defend or attack on the steep climbs of Sunday’s stage to Castelfidardo and then try to snatch overall victory in Tuesday’s final 10km time trial.
Every seconds won or lost could be the difference between victory and a place on the podium, with Van Aert’s performance and overall result an important indicator for the long-term direction of his career.
Van Aert was careful about making predictions but he and his Jumbo-Visma team clearly think it is possible to challenge for overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico. To stop him, his rivals will have to attack early but he is likely to produce a controlled ride on the climb to the finish.
“It’s a good question. I’m looking forward to seeing how far I can get in the uphill finish,” he said when asked about the time calculations.
“Normally, It’d be very difficult to keep the jersey. It’s something completely new for me, we’ll see but I’m ready to fight and my legs are good. The team is also strong and could save a little energy today.
“So we’ll just fight to the finish, hang on as long as possible. When I’m dropped, I’ll try to not lose too much time. Then in the evening, we’ll see where I’m in the GC.”