Paris-Roubaix will always have a bad taste in the mouth for Wout van Aert. During his first participation in the cobbled classic, his teammate Michael Goolaert died after suffering a heart attack on the bike. “There is much more emotional charge than in any other race.”

Van Aert, who will be one of the main favorites at tomorrow’s start, looks back on the dramatic 2018 edition at Het Laatste Nieuws. It was my first spring on the road. Everything had gone well, Roubaix was my last effort. After that we were going to celebrate, but once I crossed the line I was immediately removed from the velodrome and the team did not allow me to speak to the media.

“I didn’t understand why. They said, “Michael fell.” Then I thought: ‘God, fallen, several riders must have fallen.’ Only on the bus was I able to hear the whole story.”

“I can still remember exactly what that night was like, apparently that’s typical of traumatic experiences. Then we had to wait a long time for news. I think it was already midnight when we found out that Michael had passed away. We were still together with the team at the time and then you see how everyone reacts in his way. Very strange.

Wout van Aert during a commemoration shortly after Goolaerts' death.
Wout van Aert during a commemoration shortly after Goolaerts’ death. © photo: Cor Vos

psychological assistance

Van Aert received psychological help after the death of his friend and teammate. ,,In the first days and weeks after Michael’s death, I depended mainly on my family. It was only when I realized that it was costing me more than I wanted to admit that I also discussed it with Rudy (psychologist Rudy Heylen, ed.). That helped give him a place in silence, although I still don’t know if he really succeeded and if something like that is possible.

Since then, Van Aert has wanted nothing more than to pay tribute to Goolaert in Roubaix, but last year’s second place (behind Dutchman Dylan van Baarle) is his best result so far. ,,There is much more emotional charge than in any other race, although Paris-Roubaix seems cursed to me. It has not lasted a single edition, so I have not been able to show the tribute to Michael that has been in my head for a long time. That eats me up.”

“There is a victory gesture in honor of Michael in my head. And if I win, preferably with a solo and not after a sprint, to have time in the last meters to think about Michael.

Van Baarle can adjust the tire pressure on course
Van Baarle is one of three riders from the Jumbo-Visma cycling team who will use the so-called KAPS technology in Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. This allows riders to adjust tire pressure during the race so that it is optimal for each surface along the course.

In it hell of the north it is driven alternately on asphalt and cobblestones. On the latter surface, lower tire pressure is advantageous.

In addition to Van Baarle, winner of the northern French classic last year, his teammates Christophe Laporte and Edoardo Affini also use the technical apparatus approved by the UCI international cycling union. Van Aert decided not to.