For Wout van Aert, 2023 has been a solid year. Four wins added to his palmares, van Aert also did a spectacular job in helping Jonas Vingegaard successfully retain his Tour de France title. With a total of fifteen podium finishes though, it could have been so much better.
"I've been thinking about it myself. Maybe we'll talk about this subject very differently if I don't have a puncture in Roubaix," reflects van Aert in conversation with Het Nieuwsblad after failing to take a really year-defining victory. "We were always close and with a little more luck and under a little different certain circumstances we might win one or two.”
Second at the road races of both the World Championships and the European Championships and the Cyclocross World Championships, plus coming home in the top few finishers at the aforementioned Paris-Roubaix, multiple Tour de France stages and races such as Milano-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders it's often been close but no cigar for van Aert during this calendar year.
“It is true that in the monuments we often bump into someone who is just stronger," he admits. "On Mathieu van der Poel or Tadej Pogacar. Or at Remco Evenepoel in Liège. Maybe those men are a bit more talented in those extremely long one-day races.”
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So does this call for a change in tactic from the Belgian? "That is certainly something to look at. When I have good legs, I am often eager and also participate in the race. The one who wins is often the one who dares to open up the race. If a selection takes place, I have to dare to drive more economically afterwards," he poses.
Another option is a change of racing calendar. Skipping the Tour de France perhaps. "That could certainly be something we should look at. But then I immediately think: we are talking about the Tour, the biggest race of the year," says van Aert. "Ultimately, I don't ride that many races in a year. If you do eighty or ninety race days, you can join in to train left and right, but that is not who I am. When I wear a jersey number, I give value for my money.”