Yesterday, Stage 10, Belgian superstar all-rounder Wout van Aert took second place in a bunch sprint behind Mark Cavendish. Today, on the day the race ascended the mighty Mont Ventoux twice he won, over a minute clear, and none of this makes much sense anymore.
And because it’s Van Aert – one of the breed of ‘new humans,’ as former pro Pete Kennaugh described this insanely talented current generation of riders – it’s not even that big a surprise.
Conventional wisdom tells us that big, muscular guys win (or almost win) bunch sprints and skinny-assed climbers win double Mont Ventoux stages. But convention is for the history books. This is a big (ish) guy who refuses to distinguish between one or the other.
Van Aert did it as a member of a breakaway that included world champ Julian Alaphilippe, punchy Irish climber Dan Martin, and Trek teammates Kenny Ellissonde and Bauke Mollema.
As the break reached the lower slopes of Ventoux for a second time, cards were played. An attack here, a counter attack there, a flamboyant implosion from Alaphilippe, and Van Aert emerged clear.
Staying firmly seated, upping the power, and simply powering his way to the summit of this brutal peak.
Ellissonde and Mollema settled in, a minute or two back, with a thinned-out group of favourites trailing a minute or two behind them. And this was the race.
The camera zoomed in on Van Aert as he made this move and he revealed ‘the face.’ His eyes roll back sightly to reveal the whites, the skin hangs limp from his cheeks, and he goes a bit grey. It’s as if he’s sunk back a bit deeper into himself. No longer expending energy on eyeball control, pallour, or skin taughtness, every watt of energy has been directed to the legs.
Once that face is set he will not be caught.
Up over that bald, photogenic summit he went, to sweep down the other side, calmly maintaining a lead, punching a fist and cracking a smile as he entered the town of Malaucene to win a massive mountain stage.
Nice little addition to the CV, Wout me ol’ mate…you absolute FREAK!
Meanwhile – rewind back up the mountain – Jonas Vingegaard, young teammate of the now departed Primoz Roglic, revealed a tiny crack in race-leader Tadej Pogacar’s door of impregnability (if you can imagine such a thing).
While Richard Carapaz thought about attacking and Rigoberto Uran considered it Vingegaard, summit in sight, pushed the fuck-it button.
Boom! Off he went.
Pogacar followed, stealthy. The template of this race to date said that from that position Vingegaard would crack, Pogacar would counter-attack, and more time would be put between him and his rivals. But no. The unthinkable. Our Yellow Jersey watched, impotent, as the Dane rode off up the road.
Tadej Pogacar in ‘mere mortal’ shocker!
I would love to talk you through the ensuing dramatic time gain by Vingegaard but that’s not what happened. Pogacar banded together with Carapaz and Uran and they caught him on the descent to nullify any advantage.
As you were.
Except there is now a Jonas Vingegaard shaped chink in the previously impregnable defences of our leader. Whether anyone can prise it open is another matter. Pogacar remains firmly in charge, but we will see.
As for Wout van Aert?
He’s just thinking about what other kinds of stage he might win.
There’s a TT to come, of course. He could win that. A punchy, pre-Pyrenees transition stage…yep, that’s do-able. If Mark Cavendish starts to tire through weeks two and three maybe he’ll have an eye on the glory of Stage 21 on the Champs Elysees?
Basically, all of the above, and any other variations thereof.
Just look out for ‘the face.’
If you see that, you’ll know he’s on a mission.
(Top Image: via Dusty J at Flickr CC – Wout Van Aert ~ Jingle Cross | Dusty J | Flickr)