Riding is Life


Wout van Aert chases alone at E3 Prijs after crashing. He's tailed by a TV moto and is looking up the road with his cheeks blowing out from the effort.

As Monuments loom, Visma is banged up and fighting bugs

The Dutch superteam and its leader, Wout van Aert, took a high-risk, high-reward strategy to the Spring Classics. Will it work out?

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 26.03.2024 Photography by
Kristof Ramon
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Visma-Lease a Bike likes to have a plan. But ahead of its most important targets for spring, the Dutch superteam will have to adapt to some adverse events that leave it slightly short of full strength as it backs Wout van Aert’s bid for his first victory in a cobbled Monument.

The worst news is that Christophe Laporte, forced out of Milan-San Remo with a gastrointestinal bug, is still not back to racing shape and will miss Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. “Laporte will not start on Wednesday and Sunday in Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders,” the team announced in a post on X. “He has not recovered sufficiently from stomach flu and saddle pain.” His participation in Paris-Roubaix, April 7, is not assured either.

That’s a big blow. Prior to his M-SR illness, Laporte was in excellent shape with two top-five finishes at the cobbled Classics’ “opening weekend” in late February. Without him, Visma is robbed of its primary foil to Van Aert.

Matteo Jorgenson climbs a cobbled berg at the 2024 E3 Prijs.
Without the services of Christophe Laporte, Visma may be forced to put Matteo Jorgenson in the role of foil.

But the troubles don’t stop there. Van Aert and Matteo Jorgenson both suffered tumbles at last week’s E3 Prijs (Jorgenson after the finish when another rider took him down in a low-speed tumble). Both are said to be fine; Van Aert recovered from his crash to finish third, after all, but they weren’t the only fallers. Tiesj Benoot also crashed and failed to finish, while Per Strand Hagenes dropped out after breaking his nose. While Van Aert sat out Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, Benoot did race and said Gent went “better than expected” for himself, but the team suffered another blow when Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Jan Tratnik DNF’d after a hard fall.

Even without Laporte, Visma is one of the deepest teams in Classics racing; all of the above riders except Hagenes are expected to start Sunday. Former Paris-Roubaix winner Dylan van Baarle is as experienced a road captain as any in pro cycling, and the team also has Italian Edoardo Affini to rely on to keep its leaders up front and out of trouble in the race’s early going. But with Laporte out and many of the rest nursing at least road rash, it’s not quite the buildup they wanted for such important objectives as Flanders and Roubaix.

From left to right, Jasper Stuyven, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert stand on the podium at E3 Prijs. Van der Poel steps forward with a bouquet of flowers raised in one hand and a first place medal around his neck. To his left, Van Aert, with a third-place medal, looks on with a sideways glance and neutral expression.
Dating back to the start of the 2023 Classics season, Van Aert has bested his lifelong rival once in one-day events, while Van der Poel has won two Monuments and a World Championship.

Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen provides a last dry run of sorts before the two most crucial races of the spring for Visma’s Classics squad. At Dwars, Van Aert and crew will get to face off against Gent-Wevelgem winner Mads Pedersen and a fearsomely strong Lidl-Trek team, as well as Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Jasper Philipsen and a solid field of contenders (don’t count out an on-form Tim Wellens, for instance, or 2024 revelation Laurence Pithie). But one rider who won’t be present is Van Aert’s longtime nemesis, Mathieu van der Poel.

As a result, they’ll have faced off just once before Flanders, as Van Aert took a different approach to the Classics this year with a three-week altitude camp after opening weekend. That meant he missed races he’s won in the past like Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo. His spring has had highlights, with two podiums and a win in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. But with the two biggest objectives of, arguably, Van Aert’s career looming, he doubtless hoped for a smoother start.

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