Belgium awaits its national champion, Wout van Aert, in the annual World Cycling Championship on Sunday to succeed Julian Alaphilippe in uncertain form in Flandria.
Everything combines to place 27-year-old van Aert in the front row: his punch and sprint qualities, his current form attested by his outrageous domination at the Tour of Britain, his status as a single leader dictated by national coach Svan Vanthourenhout.
Belgium, who has not won the title since 2012 (Philippe Gilbert), against the whole world? In any case, van Aert’s teammates are preparing for this scenario in a race which is likened to a great classic of nearly 270 kilometers, run by national selections and not by marque teams.
“We are going to lie down and work from the start, Tim (Declercq) and me, ensuring the train, plugging holes if necessary, taking a breakaway”, predicts Yves Lampaert, to the exceptional service of van Aert d ‘ordinary in a competing team. “The distance, the turns, the relaunches, the acceleration are going to make the race very tough. So I see some creaming from behind,” confirmed teammate Tiesj Benoot.
The course, which leaves from Antwerp to reach Louvain, combines the usual difficulties of the Flandrian classics and a final part reminiscent of the Flèche Brabançonne, an April race in which the last winners are the Briton Tom Pidcock (in 2021, ahead of… van Aert ), Julian Alaphilippe (2020) and Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel (2019).
The three riders are among the most serious opponents for van Aert. With a downside, the inexperience for Pidcock (Olympic mountain bike champion at the end of July), a form it seems less sparkling than last year for Alaphilippe, a preparation troubled by back problems for van der Poel who waited the beginning of the week to confirm participation.
Conversely, Italian Sonny Colbrelli, also winner of the Flèche Brabançonne in 2017, is going through the best moment of his career. He is riding on a euphoria which brought him to the title of European champion, on September 12, in front of Remco Evenepoel, the nugget of Belgian cycling who promised to put himself at the service of van Aert to avoid a reissue of the scenario of the Olympics from Tokyo. Lonely, van Aert ended up losing while securing second place once again. “One more, one too many,” he sighed after his last silver medal last Sunday in the Worlds time trial.
Against van Aert, who has won thirteen times this season, other teams are betting on numbers. Like Denmark, with several contenders (Asgreen, Cort, Valgren) next to Mads Pedersen who had created a surprise in the leaden skies of Yorkshire in 2019.
This time, the weather conditions promise to be mild (21-22 degrees with a risk of showers). But, in a world championship, no scenario can be ruled out. Not even that of the success of the Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, as comfortable in one-day races as in the big tours: we have to go back to the American Greg LeMond (1989) to find a trace of a winner. ‘a Tour de France followed by the world title a few weeks later.