Jumbo-Visma really wanted to win the Tour of Flanders and/or Paris-Roubaix this spring. After winning five Flemish classics, they were the top favorites at the start of both races, but fell short in both races. Especially the Hel van het Noorden will be whining in Wout van Aert’s head for a while, because a flat tire at Carrefour de l’Arbre prevented him from competing with Mathieu van der Poel for victory. “I can only say that hell is cursed for me at the moment,” says the Belgian afterwards.
What exactly happened during your puncture?
“The moment I attacked (shortly after Jasper Philipsen and Mathieu van der Poel’s collision with the unfortunate John Degenkolb, ed.), I felt like I had an idle. I turned left and almost skidded out of there due to a flat rear tire. The last kilometer of Carrefour de l’Arbre I was flat from behind”.
You already attacked the Forest of Wallers before. Soon after, Dylan van Baarle crashed, Christophe Laporte punctured and Alpecin-Elegant suddenly had a numerical surplus. What did you think then?
“That’s a classic Roubaix setting. It seemed like we did a good forcing and two minutes later everything is upside down. Our plan was to surprise several of the favorites before Bos van Wallers. It would have been better if we had brought an extra pawn. But Christophe and I were there in a small group. Suddenly, after Trouee d’Arenberg, I saw that Christophe was no longer there. I suspected he had a mechanical defect, although at the time I didn’t know what was wrong.”
“It was also not clear how far behind he was. And before he knew it, she joined a group with two guys from Alpecin. Suddenly there were three of them and after that it became a difficult situation. I tried to stay calm and, in the background, my teammates tried to keep the pressure on the leading group. Therefore, it was not my responsibility to keep the lead group ahead and therefore cooperate. At that time it was good for me. But when I decided to attack, I clicked.”
After Mons-en-Pévèle he reacted to an attack by Van der Poel. Why didn’t you drive there as the two strongest?
“Tactically it was not very smart to continue with Mathieu. In recent weeks he has attacked my steering wheel several times. He wanted to avoid that this time. That’s why I ran defensively on Sunday.”
Paris-Roubaix is often about the beauty of the sport, but at the same time this race is also brutal. You could possibly write the best book on bad luck and misfortune. How do you deal with it?
“It’s not over until it’s over. It is not because of a puncture in Carrefour that the course ends immediately. I tried to stay calm and fight to the end. Maybe I was the only one in our group who was really still fighting for the win. The rest competed for second place. I am happy to finally be on the podium. But it’s a shame, because without a puncture it could have been a different final.”
Because the sweetness of victory is always in the air?
“Imagine Mathieu puncturing again in the deep end and you’ve already given up after your own puncture. That would be a shame. In addition, there is no point in immediately leaving the course either. A good result is always possible. That’s how I am and I am. I want to give it my all and leave it by the wayside, then I’ll see what the result is afterwards.”
How were the sensations on the bike, did you ride with your best legs of the year?
“I don’t know. They were better than in the Paris-Roubaix races. I felt good. Luckily I didn’t feel any pain on the bike (in the ribs and knee, ed.). But afterwards I had quite a bit of pain in the ribs. It’s certainly not healthy to bounce on the cobbles in this state, but that hasn’t broken me in the race, in fact, I’m proud of the level I’ve shown in recent weeks.
You always reacted furiously to Van der Poel’s attacks. Did you feel like you were stronger?
“I don’t like to speculate on that. Of course, he pushed me to my limit with his attacks. But he didn’t surprise me this time. I was very focused on his attacks. I know they were the only dangerous attacks for me. At the time of my jab, he had started attacking myself. I felt very strong there. Even with a flat tire, he was almost on his wheel at the end of that five-star streak. He had the legs to do more, that’s for sure.”
Flanders and Roubaix were two big targets for Jumbo-Visma. Now that they haven’t won, does that change the team’s plans in the Ardennes classics?
“I don’t know. But at least we are much more underdog there, with a different team. For me, Roubaix was at least the last clásico. It’s a shame for everyone in our team that we miss a great clásico this spring. But we must be proud of how we drive. It’s easy to say it’s about winning. It’s also about how you present yourself as a team, how you present yourself. I think we did well and I hope it entertained the fans.”
He was close in Milan-San Remo, close in the Tour of Flanders and close in Paris-Roubaix. Jumbo-Visma also won five spring classics. How do you rate this period? Was it successful or was it a failure due to the lack of a monument?
“We should be proud of the way we ran. We aim for more, especially in the last two monuments. But each course has its history. It would be a real shame if you call this spring a failure. Especially when you see how we drove. That makes me proud. When I look at myself, I was always in the final of the biggest races. I’ve always done what I could do.”