In previous years, Wout van Aert has warmed up for Milan-San Remo by very publicly running through his vast repertoire in early March. This time around, his approach to the race has been rather more sotto voce, but he will still be expected to hit all the familiar notes over the Cipressa and Poggio on Saturday afternoon.
“I think my shape is less than last year,” Van Aert told reporters earlier in the week. “Last year I was already really good in Opening weekend and Paris-Nice, and it was important to keep that level. This time, I’m hoping to improve a little bit.”
In 2021, Van Aert won a brace of stages and placed second overall at an especially intense edition of Tirreno-Adriatico, a performance that reiterated his all-terrain abilities. Yet despite victories at Gent-Wevelgem and Amstel Gold Race later that spring, it was hard to shake off the nagging sense that he might have given too much of himself in March.
Two years on, his build-up has been altogether different, though Van Aert stressed that this had come about by accident rather than design. After a bout of illness interrupted his training in February, he opted to forgo his planned seasonal debut at Strade Bianche, while Tirreno-Adriatico was essentially relegated to the status of preparatory race.
“Initially, the intention was to start on top form at Strade and then hold that for the whole Spring. Now it’s more about growing towards that,” said Van Aert, who was largely content to play a supporting role for winner Primoz Roglic in Italy last week.
The one stage that Van Aert had earmarked in the road book, the uphill finale in Tortoreto, was ruined by a crash of his own making in the finale, but the incident caused no lasting injury. Although he didn’t pick up a result of note, he may well have got what he needed out of Tirreno-Adriatico all the same.
“It doesn’t bother me that I didn’t win a stage at Tirreno, that wasn’t the most important thing in the race,” Van Aert said. “But as I said beforehand, it is important to have a goal, so I did want to go for it on that day [in Tortoreto]. If I didn’t have the legs, it would have been frustrating, but falling was of course very frustrating too.”
Van Aert’s lone Monument victory to date came at the pandemic-delayed Milan-San Remo of 2020, when he tracked Julian Alaphilippe over the Poggio and then outsprinted…
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