Wout van Aert Faces Uphill Battle in Comeback at Tour of Norway

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Wout van Aert Faces Uphill Battle in Comeback PAUL S. AMUNDSEN - Getty Images

“I’m not in the best shape.”Wout van Aert admitted as much late last week before his long-anticipated return to racing, which kicked off yesterday in the four-stage Tour of Norway.

After breaking his collarbone, several ribs, and his sternum in a violent crash at late March’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, Van Aert was sidelined for the last eight weeks.

The crash forced him to miss both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, where he was very much expected to compete for victories. Those races are arguably the two biggest omissions on Van Aert’s stunning palmarès, which include nine Tour de France stage wins and victories at Milano-Sanremo, Amstel Gold Race, Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Van Aert also missed out on this year’s Giro d’Italia, which was to be his debut in the Grand Tour.

In Thursday’s opening stage of the Tour of Norway, Van Aert finished sixtieth after being dropped on the day’s final climb. He crossed the line two minutes and fifty-two seconds behind the day’s winner, Thibau Nys of Lidl-Trek.

“It may be noticeable that I am not happy because I had not hoped to suffer like this. But I just have to get on with it now,” Van Aert told the Belgian sports outlet Sporza after the stage concluded. “It is not a normal feeling for me to just ride there and suffer in the peloton, but I know that this is part of it now.”

However, Van Aert almost immediately contradicted himself, telling Sporza, “It went quite well. It was a controlled race, which was welcome. It was a tough course. I am happy with how it went.”

Following his crash at Dwars, the Belgian spent two weeks off the bike before climbing on a trainer at home. He was quick to admit that, in those early days, he may have pushed himself a bit too hard. “That is probably the biggest mistake I made: I underestimated my injuries,” Van Aert said.

Slowly, Van Aert returned to a proper training regimen, eventually spending time riding in Spain before heading to Norway.

Whether or not this is the first major step in van Aert’s eventual return to the Tour de France remains to be seen. Van Aert said it’s “way too early to say anything about” riding in the Tour.

Visma-Lease a Bike’s team boss, Richard Plugge, recently said that the team is “very hopeful that Wout can come to the Tour de France.” However, with the Tour’s Grand Départ just thirty-six days away, van Aert will likely have to show some massive gains over the next few weeks.

Should he be forced to skip this summer’s Tour de France, Van Aert will then shift his focus to the Paris Olympics, where he’s slated to compete in the time trial on July 27 and the road race on August 3. However, he said he’ll only go to Paris “if I’m at my top level.”

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