Merijn Zeeman full of praise for Wout van Aert: "That's just a dream for every team, to have a rider like that"

Team Visma | Lease a Bike will be able to count on Wout van Aert for the Tour de France, something they hadn't planned at the start of the season but which could end up being a key factor for the team's success. Merijn Zeeman, head DS of the team, has nothing but praise for the Belgian and is happy for his presence in the race.

“It quickly became clear that this (racing the Giro d'Italia, ed.) was not possible. Wout and Jonas really deserve a huge compliment. They have worked really hard," Zeeman told Wielerflits. "I don’t think you should underestimate what it means and requires to return to top level physically and mentally when you fall so badly. As the weeks went by, we started to philosophize with Wout about the rest of his season. It’s simple: his heart jumps for big races.”

Van Aert raced Dwars door Vlaanderen and suffered a crash, and the injuries sustained took him out of the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d'Italia. A tailor-made schedule for the 2024 season was thrown in the bin and he had to start over. He returned to racing at the Tour of Norway and afterwards took on an altitude camp together with Jonas Vingegaard.

“That gives him the motivation to get the best out of himself. The Olympic Games were too far away for him to focus on just that. At one point, Wout himself asked if there was still room in the Tour selection," Zeeman tells. "Grischa Niermann (Visma DS, ed.) and I had to think about that for less than a second. Wout is actually the great leader of this team. When you have Wout in your selection, he gives something extra. Other riders function better because of him. The team as a whole is better because of his presence. You need that in the Tour.”

Hence, besides the support of terrific climbers such as Matteo Jorgenson and Sepp Kuss, Jonas Vingegaard will be able to count on the support of van Aert who has been a key piece of the team over the past Tours. “For us, it was a huge stroke of luck that he wanted to do the Tour. His role was soon discussed and Wout himself was particularly emphatic: he really wants to do something special with the team."

"‘That also means that Jonas can count on me 100%’, he said. I would like to say right away: a stage win for him and therefore for us, that would be a great reward for his hard work. So that is definitely what we are looking for.” On the flat stages he will help alongside Christophe Laporte - the same could be said of the gravel stage - but the reality is that van Aert will serve a purpose in every kind of stage.

“That he had to watch the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix from home in his chair, that really affected Wout. But he is also a real athlete. He can switch things up like no other," he continues. "I don't really know anyone who can approach his approach to the sport. Then he is by far the most professional rider. Who works all his intervals focused until the last second. Who weighs his food down to the last gram. Who actively gets involved with other riders. And motivates them to do the same.”

A rider of such quality and popularity always attracts the spotlight, and that definitely has a reason behind it: “When Wout is there, then something happens. Then the bar goes up, then the standard in our team goes up. That's just a dream for every team, to have a rider like that. Wout really makes others better. And yes: he was in deep pain after that crash. But actually from the moment he thought: 'I want to go to the Tour and do something special with the team', then he also left. And actually he can't be stopped anymore."

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