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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Saturday, April 2, 2022

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Wout van Aert will not start the Tour of Flanders Sunday due to a coronavirus infection

Van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma team sent me this bad news:

For Van Aert, these have been intense days. "Since yesterday morning, I have had a slight sore throat. I immediately did two self-tests and they were both positive. I then did a PCR test, which showed that I tested strongly positive. The good news is that I only have mild symptoms, just a sore throat and a cold. My focus is on recovering now. I want to be fully recovered before thinking about the future again."

Just a few weeks ago van Aert won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Sirotti photo

For the Belgian champion, it remains a mystery where he contracted the infection. "Over the last two years and the last months and weeks, I've put a lot of effort into avoiding infection. But you are still exposed to many risks, and you don't always have things in your own hands."

For Van Aert, the infection comes at the worst possible moment, but he thanks everyone for their support. "It gave me a lot of pleasure reading everyone is so concerned with me. I want to thank everyone for their support over the last few days. I will now be my teammates' biggest fan on Sunday."

Sports director Arthur Van Dongen clarifies Wout van Aert's absence. "Examinations have confirmed that Wout is not fit. He is not very sick but not competitive enough to start in the Tour of Flanders. He now has to take a break and then we will set new goals. It's unfortunate for Wout but certainly for Belgium and the team. Knowing Wout, he will come back stronger than ever. We will sit down with the team, make a new plan and discuss how we can win the Ronde with the new team composition."

Tiesj Benoot already raced without the Belgian champion in Dwars Door Vlaanderen. "It's different racing without the top favourite, both for the other teams and us. Wout has a big impact on every race he participates in. We'll have to race without him now, but we'll still be a strong team."

The news of Van Aert's absence was disappointing, but the team will appear fully motivated at the start. "The atmosphere was excellent over the past few weeks. We already had a good meeting. Then this news came. But everyone is still very motivated. It is a race we have been looking forward to for a long time. This situation is out of our control, so we have to let go of that quickly now."

According to Christophe Laporte, the team can still have a great race. "For a rider like Tiesj or me, it's harder to win without Wout. He contributes a lot to the team anyway, but we can still ride a nice race. Tiesj already proved that in Dwars Door Vlaanderen."

Mike Teunissen's role will remain the same without Van Aert. "This is bad news and it takes some getting used to the idea that Wout won't be at the start. It's nicer with Wout, but we have to keep going. Fortunately, we have several strong guys. My role will remain the same. I will have to make sure they will be well-positioned and don't have to chase. Whether that's for two or three riders doesn't matter much to me."

Team BikeExchange-Jayco headed to Flanders

The team sent me this update:

Australian Michael Matthews is hoping it is third time lucky at the Tour of Flanders as he joins his Team BikeExchange-Jayco teammates for Sunday’s second Monument of 2022.

The 31-year-old arrives in Belgium fresh off the back of a win at the Tour of Catalunya, and despite pulling out of the race on stage three, ‘Bling’ is confident he can be in the mix at De Ronde.

Michael Matthews wins the first stage of this year's Tour of Catalonia.

Kelland O’Brien will race his first Monument on Sunday after his impressive mid-week ride to seventh place at Dwars door Vlaanderen, while Luke Durbridge will ride his eighth 'Flanders'.

Campbell Stewart will continue his cobbled classics development alongside the experienced Alex Edmondson and Sam Bewley. New Zealander Dion Smith also comes into the squad after a string of strong results in Italy. 

The 106th edition of the Tour of Flanders features the usual short, sharp and often cobbled climbs that are emblematic of the grueling nature of the race. The riders leave from Antwerp on a 272.5km route that will conclude with the famous cobbled combo of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.

Team BikeExchange-Jayco Line-Up:
Luke Durbridge (AUS)
Alex Edmondson (AUS)
Michael Matthews (AUS)
Kelland O’Brien (AUS)
Dion Smith (NZL)
Campbell Stewart (NZL)
Sam Bewley (NZL)

Michael Matthews:
“It’s Tour of Flanders number three for me. The first time I did it in 2019 I was sixth, and it was quite a good result, but last year I had two crashes and not much luck.

"My shape seems to be good, and I come here with the win in Catalunya off the shoulders and that is what I went to Spain for.

"I believe that the cold weather on Sunday can definitely change the race. Some guys can work better in the cold and some others maybe not. For myself, I will tell you after the race! I don’t mind about the cold, it will be worse if it’s raining.”

Mathew Hayman (Sport Director):
“De Ronde is the highlight of the Belgian classics and a day that all the classics riders look forward to.

"With Michael Matthews coming in to strengthen our team, coming off the back of a win in Catalunya and a strong showing in Milano-San Remo, we are confident that we can play a role in the final on Sunday.”

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Lotto Soudal previews the Tour of Flanders

Here’s the team’s post:

On Sunday 3 April, the apotheosis of the Flemish cobbled Classics will take place between Antwerp and Oudenaarde in the 106th Tour of Flanders. After the start, the race will head for the Flemish Ardennes, where no fewer than 18 hills and seven cobbled sections await the riders. Also this year, legendary climbs like the Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg will once again act as the decisive factors in the over 270 kilometres long Ronde.

“How I would describe the Tour of Flanders? As a real holiday for the cycling fan. And also as a race which both riders and staff within the team are really looking forward to. But at the same time it is also a long and hard day with 270 kilometres of racing in which so much happens and everyone has their own story to tell”, says sports director Nikolas Maes.

Tim Wellens wins this year's Trofeo Tramuntana at the Illes Balears series.

“With the selection we have on paper, we should be able to leave a mark on Sunday’s race. Maybe not immediately for the highest podium spot but our intention is obviously to play a role at the Ronde. Of course, the performance of Victor Campenaerts at Dwars door Vlaanderen gave us that extra boost. He will certainly try something again on Sunday. I also expect Tim Wellens to be up there, he needed Dwars door Vlaanderen to get back into race rhythm. We also expect something from our youngsters Florian Vermeersch and Brent Van Moer. And also Cedric Beullens has surprised us positively several times this spring season. With Sébastien Grignard and Roger Kluge – who replaces Frederik Frison after his collarbone fracture – we have two more riders who can contribute.”

“The course of the Ronde is a really honest one and it’s usually the best riders who automatically come out on top towards the end of the race. Where will the race be decided? In the past, the Hotond has proved to be crucial several times but now everyone knows it can happen there. For me, the Oude Kwaremont – Paterberg duo is one of the most crucial points of the Ronde and the Koppenberg usually also gives you already a good indication of who will be competing for the win.”

“Which result I’m happy with after the Ronde? We are talking about a cycling Monument of 270 kilometres so we need to be realistic. But as always, we go for the highest achievable result and try to surprise”, concludes the Lotto Soudal sports director.

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Illness & injuries force Israel-Premier Tech team to miss Tour of Flanders

Here's the team's statement:

Israel – Premier Tech team management have made the difficult decision to withdraw the team from Ronde van Vlaanderen this Sunday for medical reasons.

The team in Belgium has been impacted by illness and injury and yesterday, a second covid case was confirmed. The rider and staff group currently in Belgium are now all considered close contacts. With the team also racing in Spain this weekend, and many other riders currently sidelined with injury or illness, the team is unable to field a healthy roster at this late notice.

Israel – Premier Tech General Manager Kjell Carlström said the decision to withdraw has been made in the best interests of the team and the wider peloton.

“This is a very regrettable situation and we are extremely disappointed to have to withdraw from Ronde van Vlaanderen. This decision has not been taken lightly but we feel this is our only option at this stage. It is no secret we have had covid and other illness and also crash-induced injuries wiping out the majority of our riders at one stage or another in recent weeks. Right now, we have very few healthy riders who could take to the start line, but they are now close contacts, and it is out of respect for the race and the rest of the peloton, that we are making this decision. It is our duty of care to the other teams to not be willingly sending riders who have been exposed to covid into a race.

“By withdrawing from the race, we are allowing our cobbled classics riders to recover and hit the reset button. No one is more disappointed than us but hopefully, this decision will allow us to save the remainder of the spring season and get back on track.”

Israel – Premier Tech would like to extend its gratitude to the UCI and Flanders Classics for their understanding and cooperation. The team will also be withdrawing from next Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs.

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