Wout van Aert anticipates challenging Tour of Norway given current form

Wout van Aert will return to competition for Visma-Lease a Bike at the Tour of Norway, starting on Thursday. The Belgian rider has been out for eight weeks due to injuries sustained in a crash at Dwars door Vlaanderen, where he broke his collarbone, sternum, and seven ribs. Van Aert is eager to test both his physical recovery and mental strength in the four-day UCI ProSeries stage race running from 23-26 May, having missed his favourite Spring Classics and his debut at the Giro d’Italia.

“I’m feeling healthy, the spirit is good. I’m happy to be here and happy to pin on the number tomorrow again,” Van Aert said during a press conference on Wednesday. He described his rehabilitation journey as long and challenging. “It took quite a while until I could properly train again. But luckily, the last few weeks, I was able to do so without too much pain. So, me and the team decided to try and race as soon as possible, to get back the good feeling of doing a race and being in the group.”

Even though Van Aert isn’t in peak condition, he still holds ambitions for the Tour of Norway. “I would of course like to win four stages here and take everything from then on. But unfortunately, that is not realistic,” he admitted. “Hopefully I can return home with confidence and then compete again in the biggest races – where I think I belong – for a win in the summer.”

The start in the Tour of Norway is just one step in Van Aert’s challenging road back to racing. “It went up and down, because I had occasional repercussions. It was difficult to accept. I was tired of having to watch races on TV.” Missing Paris-Roubaix, his main target for the early season, was particularly tough. “I suspect that I wasn’t enjoying myself anyway, although from my perspective it didn’t seem that bad – until Paris-Roubaix. That was a very difficult day. Then I realised that I was still very far away from racing.”

Gradually, Van Aert began taking walks and then rides on his mountain bike. However, he only started training for race fitness earlier this month. “It wasn’t until two weeks ago, when I left for a training camp in Spain. Before that, I was able to cycle every day, but from Spain I could also train.” His training had its own set of challenges. “Once you haven’t ridden for two weeks, things deteriorate very quickly. I hoped to limit that period, but that turned out to be difficult. It was more like a winter break,” he noted.

After his long road back to racing, Van Aert is now focussed on getting up to speed for the Olympic Games. He and Remco Evenepoel are expected to be favourites in both the individual time trial and road race. The Tour de France is only an option in the best-case scenario. “The Olympic Games are more realistic. The time trial is in two months. I had the least doubts about that. But I will only go to Paris if I can perform at top level.”

Joining Van Aert on the start list is Norwegian youngster Per Strand Hagenes, who recently moved up to the WorldTour after two years with the Jumbo-Visma Development programme. Van Aert praised Hagenes, calling him a “super young talent, super strong guy. His future looks really promising, I believe. It’s good to have him here as well as a guide for us.” He also expressed his pleasure in finding Norwegians who share a love for the cobbled Classics, a connection that he values.