Wout Van Aert says it’s exactly one year since he returned home from hospital following his horrific crash in the time trial of the 2019 Tour de France, and what better way to celebrate than with victory at Strade Bianche.
The race has teased him up until now, with two third-place finishes, but he will sleep soundly having won only his second race back since the season-ending leg injury last year.
“I think it’s now exactly a year ago that I was taken home after two weeks in hospital and if you told me then what was going to happen in one year maybe I wouldn’t believe it at that point.
But yeah I always kept faith, or tried to keep faith, it was hard sometimes, but this is the satisfaction after hard work. But [the crash] was not the first thing on my mind after I finished, I think it’s more when everyone asks me the question then of course you think about it than when you’re in the race.”
“I think maybe I can say I’m at the best level I’ve ever been, so it’s more about focusing on the positives and not always thinking back.”
The Jumbo-Visma rider looked comfortable as the leading group tackled the gravel roads around Siena, then launching his move 12km to go, solo-ing across the line, Max Schachmann and Davide Formolo’s best efforts not able to pull him back.
“Of course, it’s a big satisfaction to win this race, it’s a special year for everyone and it’s really nice to say after the first race back [I’ve won].
“I had in mind to not waste any chances and this is what I tried to do, I focused on this race a lot and it paid off.
“It was a really hard one, I think especially in the beginning it was quite difficult for me to be in position, keeping focus, I needed some time to get used to the peloton feeling again actually. I was really nervous and it was hard to keep on the road with all the difficulties in front of us. Especially my eyes will need a few days to recover also. But this race is a survival of the fittest I think.”
In 2018 the video of Van Aert falling on the steep Siena streets was a defining memory of the race. Did the Belgian think back as this time he powered up the incline to victory?
“I thought for a second about it yeah, I can remember the feeling of how it was a few years ago. Eeveryone remembers the images, it goes better and better though, I think in a few years I’ll fly up it.”