World Championships in Leuven (elite men), Sunday (1:30 p.m.)
How long have you known Wout Van Aert?
Since his junior years (2012-2013). During a cyclo-cross world championship, we met in the same hotel and we hit it off. When he joined the Crelan team (in 2016), he then came to do an internship with me in the Vosges and contacted me via social networks. It’s funny because at the time, he wanted to take a bike ride with Thibaut Pinot. So the three of us had set up La Planche des Belles Filles. He became a real star but we kept in touch. He’s a good guy.
Are you surprised to see him evolve at this level?
Not at all. It is even a logical continuation. He is an extremely determined runner. When he came to the Vosges, I still remember seeing him yell at his sports director (Niels Albert) because he took the wrong route. He had said to her (he takes on the Belgian accent): “You, your job is to know the road, me, it is to pedal! He was 21 years old. He knew what he wanted. When he became a truck driver, I was sure he was going to walk.
From there to winning in the mountains, in the time trial and in the sprint as in the last Tour de France?
Where he surprised me the most was during the Ventoux stage. But it was after a long breakaway. And then, Wout, be careful, he’s a collars “puffer”. He has acquired the pedal stroke of the mountain. When he goes on an internship, it is always between 2,500 and 3,500 m in altitude. Some people are hallucinating to see it climb, not me. Anyway, he can do everything. And since it is sealed against pressure …
Can he be beaten on Sunday?
Unfortunately yes. Like Sagan and Julian (Alaphilippe), he would make a very good world champion. It would do justice to the jersey. It does so much good on the bike. But I’m afraid that some runners will take advantage of a marking race, a race that is a bit bastard. I am thinking of the Danes Valgren and Cort Nielsen, of the Italian Trentino. At a World Cup, it is rarely the ultra favorite who wins. Van Aert is going to have to be very smart. Above all, he should avoid showing that he is too strong, something he failed to do during the Olympic Games. A silver medal is fine, but …
How do you think he will go about it?
From what I have read, but I still ask to see, Evenepoel will be at his service and that changes everything. He’s so strong. If the kid puts his personal ambitions aside and takes the lead in the peloton 50 miles from the finish, no one will be able to get out and Wout will just have to finish the job in front of his audience. It would be wonderful.
Can Alaphilippe keep his title?
Yes. Because he has nothing to lose, precisely. He once had the rainbow jersey. Lately, he has perfectly drowned the fish by playing the game of his teammates. He didn’t win, he was kind of forgotten. He was right. He will know how to put the cartridge where it is needed.