Wout van Aert has downplayed the prospect of emulating his achievements at last year’s Tour de France, when he claimed the points jersey and three stage victories while helping Jumbo-Visma teammate Jonas Vingegaard to final overall victory.
The Belgian has also voiced disappointment at how his and Vingegaard's relationship was portrayed in the recently-released Netflix documentary 'Tour de France: Unchained.'
"I am someone who likes to believe that there are almost no limits, but when it comes to last year's Tour, it should not be the ambition to do even better," Van Aert said in an interview with Sporza. “That Tour was exceptional. I realise that and the team realises that.”
Van Aert repeated his earlier affirmation that he would not make a target of the green jersey from the start of the 2023 Tour de France. “Winning green was nice and important to me, but the best thing in this sport is to cross the finish line first,” he said. “The points classification sometimes gets in the way of stage victories.”
Van Aert insisted, however, that his personal ambitions were compatible with Vingegaard’s title defence. The Belgian has won stages in each of his four Tour appearances while helping his leaders finish on the overall podium on each occasion.
"I've been asked for a number of years whether that can be combined. I can only say: look at the races of previous years," said Van Aert, who downplayed the apparent tensions with Vingegaard that were documented in the Netflix series.
“It is quite disturbing that stories were placed in the documentary that weren’t there. For me, the series is focused on commotion,” he said.
"Jonas and I are best mates. It focuses on moments where it's hard to make the right choice, but there are also so many moments where we supported each other and worked together. It's a shame that that was taken out.”
Tour de Suisse
Van Aert was speaking as he returned to racing at the Tour de Suisse after two months of training. The Belgian finished third in Sunday's opening time trial but said afterwards that there are still more improvements to be made ahead of July.
The Belgian came home 10 seconds down on stage 1 winner Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) during the time trial in Einsiedeln. The 12.7km ride was his first race since Paris-Roubaix, with training camps at altitude in Sierra Nevada and, most recently, the Swiss Alps, coming in the intervening period.
In Switzerland, Van Aert said that the wind had an effect on his ride on Sunday, noting that he's not yet at full strength after coming back from altitude.
"It can always go two ways when you come out of training camp. I think I'm fine, but I still need to get a bit better to win," he told Het Nieuwsblad after stage 1.
"Everything went fine in itself and I was close to the better time trialists, where I should be. To beat those guys, you have to be at your best and I'm still missing a bit.
"I rode a good time trial, although I probably started a bit too fast. I wanted to have something left for the last part. The wind had also turned or dropped a bit. There was still a lot to gain in the second part, but I couldn't accelerate as hoped. I think Küng made the difference in the last part."
Van Aert's start was promising, and he'll hope to add to his spring win at Strade Bianche later in the week as he completes his preparation for the Tour de France.
Jumbo-Visma directeur sportif Marc Reef said that Van Aert "can only get better" from here while adding that the first race back from working at altitude can always be unpredictable.
"We just have to be happy with that third place," he said. "It's a good start for Wout. From here it can only get better.
"We just came from altitude, where we trained well. We already saw in the Giro that this kind of first [race] effort is always difficult and that also shows now."
Van Aert's outing in Switzerland is his first career participation at the Tour de Suisse, having warmed up for the Tour de France with the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2019, 2020, and 2022.
He's taken five stage wins and three points jerseys at the Dauphiné and said that he hopes for similar this week, though he won't empty himself to try for a top GC spot.
"I did fancy a different run-up to the Tour," he told Het Laatste Nieuws. "I've ridden the Dauphiné several times now. I won stages there and the green jersey.
"The Tour de Suisse is a race where I have never won. I want to come and try that once. I'm not going to venture into the GC – there are three serious mountain stages, for which we have other riders, like Wilco Kelderman. I'm not going to ride empty for a GC here."
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Get The Leadout Newsletter
The latest race content, interviews, features, reviews and expert buying guides, direct to your inbox!
Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.