Wout van Aert is the star of this Monday's Clásica Jaén Paraiso Interior. The Team Visma | Lease a Bike rider has started his road season this weekend and will gauge his form in the gravel (or muddy) sectors of the Spanish race, in a day where he will be among the favourites without a doubt.
“I think it's a shame, but I assume there are good reasons for the course change," van Aert tells Het Laatste Nieuws ahead of the race which Tadej Pogacar won last year. "Maarten (Wynants, team DS, ed.) already spoke about bad gravel tracks on Friday and it rained a lot in that region last weekend. Safety comes first. The few gravel tracks that remain will be challenging enough due to the wet weather conditions.”
PREVIEW | Clásica Jaén Paraiso Interior 2024 - Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss headline mudfest in Spanish gravel
Unusually strong rains in the region forced organizers to cut the grand majority of the off-road riding that was in the event. This does not mean a less challenging day or one that will be decided elsewhere, but will ensure more safety to the riders. Nevertheless, many will need a lot of caution not to jeopardize their spring. For van Aert, it is also a day to test the form after a block of winter training.
“I have trained well in recent weeks, but I am currently in slightly less good shape than in recent years when I start racing on the road, because I have not yet completed an altitude training camp," he admits. "Also based on my feeling in Almeria I can't say how good I am already. I felt good, but it was not a tough race. In Jaen I will become a little wiser about my fitness. I'm really looking forward to it. I love racing on gravel.”
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However, the Spanish race will not only be preparation for the spring, but for the summer. With the Tour de France featuring a gravel stage, Sepp Kuss is among the riders present, so as to test out the team's material in such terrain.
“A function test for the gravel stage of the Tour. As far as the material is concerned, it will certainly be a good test," team DS Marteen Wynants confirms.