If it’s October it’s still time for Jumbo-Visma news and rumors.
The latest, per a Tuesday report on Gazzetta dello Sport, is that Wout van Aert plans to ride the 2024 Giro d’Italia, targeting a top-five finish on its TT-heavy parcours.
This news was duly aggregated by a number of cycling media outlets, but in a curious twist, the original story has disappeared from Gazzetta’s website with no explanation. In a reply to a request for comment, a Jumbo press officer called the piece “obviously pure speculation” simply because the team’s process of planning its goals “has not even started until today.”
But the quick spread of the Gazzetta report highlights how hotly anticipated a Van Aert GC campaign would be. There are few riders in the sport as versatile as the big Belgian, as he showed at the 2021 Tour de France in winning a sprint stage, a TT stage, and the Ventoux stage. And sure enough, he’s ridden to dependably interesting (ie. top-20) placings in all three Tours that he finished.
What’s more, there is enough record of success in Grand Tours for big-bodied riders (Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas as two notable examples) to make the whole thing plausible. Add in 68 km of mostly flat time trial at this year’s Giro and a Jumbo-Visma team that’s suddenly lacking a clear GC leader for the first Grand Tour of the season and it all sounds delightfully tempting.
But if Jumbo really is only starting to plan its 2024 objectives beyond the massively obvious – Jonas attempting a third-straight Tour win – allow me to channel a little K2SO to give Wout some advice:
It comes down to two interlocking points: it won’t work, but the effort to try will sabotage Van Aert’s classics campaign.
When the Giro route was announced, much was made of the increase in TT distance. But c’mon, this is still the Giro d’Italia, people. There are six summit finishes, three in the first half. They start on stage 2’s finish on the Santuario di Oropa, which doesn’t seem that bad at 11.8 km at 6.2% average but all the steepy bits are in the back half.
Ah, but Van Aert can climb! You said so right at the beginning, Lindsey!
Yes, he can. But let’s take a look at that. First off, discard any performances in week-long stage races. Why? They’re a week long. Second, let’s look at his performance in the five Tours he’s done. Most of his really solid climbing-stage results have come when he’s in a breakaway: that Ventoux win, or his third place at Hautacam last year. On days when he’s riding for the team, he can still clock in a respectable top-20 finish. But a closer look reveals he’s shipping minutes to the winner in most of those instances.
Is he sitting up? Yes, for sure. But closing those gaps isn’t easy, because all of those losses are happening on the final climb alone. He’s not losing two, five, 10 minutes over the course of a five-hour stage; it’s happening on a 30- or 40-minute climb. Even assuming Van Aert is able to put several minutes into his competitors across the two TTs, that doesn’t leave a huge margin of error across six summit finishes. And he has to consistently sustain that over three weeks, since the Giro’s last mountaintop finish is on stage 17, and stage 20 is a downhill finish immediately after a massive climb.
TL;DR – is “GC Wout” impossible? Nah. But the chances of a win or podium are pretty small. Then there’s the matter of what that goal would cost.
You may or may not have noticed, but Wout van Aert is a good bit taller and heavier than most GC riders. Like Wiggins or Thomas did in their efforts to become Grand Tour winners, he’ll have to shed some body weight in order to up his watts-per-kilogram ratio. That process would have to start very soon; it is surpassingly difficult for riders to do the kind of workload they need to build form and also restrict calories enough to drop weight in-season.
And there is certainly no time to do that between the early-April cobbled classics and the May 4 start of the Giro. So, also: no time to adjust training for the Giro efforts. It might seem obvious, but the ideal preparation for a three-week Tour is juuust a bit different than for a six-hour classic.
So Van Aert has to choose, and if he chooses Giro it will severely compromise his form for a classics campaign. That would be a curious choice for Jumbo, which wants to be the world’s top team and has spent time and money to build a solid classics squad, but still lacks a signature win in either of the cobbled Monuments. Without Van Aert, they’re solid but not scary.
Fair or not, Van Aert is developing a reputation as a rider known for near-misses in the biggest races. (That seems weird to say about a rider who’s won nine Tour stages, Milan-San Remo, Strade Bianche, and a host of cobbled races not named Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders, but it’s a sign of the importance of those races that his so-far unsuccessful campaigns there defines his career as much as his successes.) A Giro campaign seems suspiciously ideal for furthering that string of disappointments: he’s almost certainly not going to podium in Rome, and an attempt to do so is likely to kill almost any chance he has of winning Flanders or Roubaix.
The Gazzetta article does allow that the podium might not be Van Aert’s objective for the Giro, which raises a curious point: why bother, then? An alternate theory is Van Aert would go to the Giro in part to prepare for the Paris Olympics, where the road and TT courses suit him. A number of riders are thought to be skipping the Tour de France for exactly that reason. And certainly, racking up some Giro stage wins before a June-July training camp would be a smart way to go if that’s your objective, and also preserve a classics campaign.
Of course, that’s not what Gazzetta suggested; the headline, before the story disappeared, claimed that Van Aert would target a top-five finish. It’s also worth noting two more things: Gazzetta cited no direct sources, anonymous or on the record, in its story, pointing instead to comments from the team around the Giro Piemonte, where sports director Marc Reef suggested Van Aert could ride the race. Van Aert himself has voiced interest in racing the Giro, but Reef’s comments were highly hedged. “Everything is possible, but it will depend on the season’s planning and how the preparation is organized,” Reef told IDLProCycling, adding that Van Aert would certainly ride the Giro at some point, “but as for which year that will be …” before trailing off.
Will he? Won’t he? If he does will it be for a podium or preparation? Let’s be honest: nobody knows. Maybe not even Wout.
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