Despite claiming surprise at taking second place, the Belgian champion sees it as confirmation of what could have been.
With their lead Classics rider still coming back to form after testing positive for COVID-19 just before Flanders, Jumbo-Visma spent the week leading up to Paris-Roubaix fielding questions about whether Wout van Aert would race.
Earlier in the week, team staff revealed the Belgian national champion had recovered and was training in Spain, but that if he was deemed fit enough to race on Sunday it would be in a team role. Once it was announced he would be taking to the start line in Compiègne the team stuck to the party line – a line that others, including his long-time rival Mathieu van der Poel and his team, Alpecin-Fenix, did not believe to be true.
Visibly fatigued post-race, Van Aert was asked what he thought of those who doubted the truth behind the claims of his lack of form: “I don’t care at all” came the curt response.
Indeed, Van Aert maintained that finding the legs to ride to second place was unexpected. “It’s a big surprise to feel this good in the race and actually I’m just happy and proud to be second,” he said.
“Of course, everything feels a bit different coming into the race, but once you feel in the race that everything feels quite normal, it was then that you really change your mind quite quickly and go to your normal habits,” he explained. “For me, my normal habits are […]