“He’s not going anywhere.”
That’s how Jonas Vingegaard responded to a question after stage 11 as to whether Jumbo-Visma’s powerhouse all-rounder Wout van Aert was on his way home – the product of a chain of whispers in the peloton that had been publicly vocalised by Mattias Skjelmose, who’d suggested the Belgian was leaving imminently. Jumbo-Visma was quick to squash the rumours – not just in Vingegaard’s press conference, but in response to numerous enquiries from media outlets before and after stages since. Skjelmose later apologised for the hubbub, and a tetchy Jumbo-Visma moment (mostly) passed.
For a rider of Van Aert’s fame and importance, though, uncertainty still lingers, just beneath the surface – and will continue to do so until either the race ends, or nature forces an answer.
Van Aert’s wife, Sarah, is due to give birth to the couple’s second child in the narrow window between the end of the Tour de France (July 23) and the start of the World Championships (August 6), and Van Aert has made his plans known. At the Tour de Suisse last month, he told Het Nieuwsblad that “I keep in mind that I may have to go home at any time during the Tour. I definitely don’t want to miss the birth of our baby.” Two days ago, he described that decision as a “no brainer”.
He has the team’s buy-in, too – Grischa Niermann, a Jumbo sports director, said that “there are more important things in life [than racing]. Before the Tour we knew that it was possible that he might have to go home because he wants to be there for the birth of his baby. We talked about that before the Tour. If we hadn’t agreed with that, we would have had to leave him at home.”
So Wout van Aert isn’t going anywhere. Understood. We hear you, Jonas Vingegaard. We hear you, Jumbo-Visma. We won’t ask that question.
What we did ask, though, was a hypothetical. What happens if – or when – he does?
Jumbo-Visma is a team with a penchant for planning, carefully managing every aspect of their riders’ preparation to ensure the greatest chance of success. Did the same level of detail apply to Wout van Aert’s possible departure from the race?
Speaking to Escape Collective in Roanne today, Jumbo managing director Richard Plugge was queried about what preparation had gone into a hurried hospital run for the Belgian star – especially in this middle week of the Tour where international airports aren’t always nearby.
“Obviously, nature is unpredictable,” he began. “So, we don’t know when it will be, and how we will solve that. But we have experience, unfortunately, with riders that have to leave a race – any race – and we always find a solution for that. But that’s only applicable at the moment that it’s there. And at the moment it’s not an issue for us.”
“So you haven’t gone into the level of detail where it’s like ‘on this stage, we go to this airport’?“
“So, just improvisation?”
“Yeah. Like always”
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