Last-minute decision pays off for Wout van Aert with first win of 2024 in Volta ao Algarve

Belgian rider rules out super competitive time trial as he steadily builds form for the Classics

Clock18:17, Friday 16th February 2024
Wout van Aert sprinted to victory on Friday, after initially not planning to go for the win

© Dario Belingheri / Velo Collection via Getty Images

Wout van Aert sprinted to victory on Friday, after initially not planning to go for the win

Wout van Aert came into the Volta ao Algarve with the primary aim of testing his legs and honing his form ahead of Opening Weekend and an all-out assault on the Spring Classics. Anything else was deemed a bonus but his striking performance on stage 2 and then a maiden season win on stage 3 certainly gave the Belgian a vital confidence boost.

The win in Tavira came from a near-perfect sprint from the Visma-Lease a Bike rider. He surfed the wheels through the final corner before using Marius Mayrhofer’s (Tudor Pro Cycling) slipstream to slingshot to the win on the slightly uphill drag to the line. At the start of the stage in Vila Real de Santo António sprinting wasn’t even the ambition, according to the 29-year-old.

“Actually, it was a last-minute decision but a great one,” Van Aert told GCN and other members of the media at the finish.

Read more: Volta ao Algarve: Wout van Aert wins stage 3 uphill sprint

“My goal was to stay out of trouble in these stages but I think that the approach to the sprint was way easier and safer than the first stage. We were in the front with the team and it was our goal to stay in a safe position and then I thought, why not?”

Van Aert came into the race as a dark horse for the GC but Visma-Lease a Bike have seemed intent on backing Jan Tratnik in every interview since stage 1. However, heading into the all-important stage 4 time trial on Saturday it’s Sepp Kuss who is best placed on GC for the Dutch team. The American sits 12 seconds down on leader Dani Martinez (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tratnik a further six seconds in arrears. Van Aert is well placed too at 22 seconds but Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) remains the outright favourite for both the TT and the overall win.

Van Aert isn’t putting any pressure on his shoulders in terms of the general classification, and he instead chose to focus on the positive aspects of his form at this point in the year.

“A performance like yesterday was maybe more important for my confidence to test the real legs but I’m a bike rider and I want to win races. It’s really nice to start the season with a win,” he said.

“It was a tough sprint, and slightly uphill and with a headwind. It was important to come from the back, I believe, and I managed to have a position in the final corner. Then I could overtake the guys in front of me at the right moment.”

Read more: Wout van Aert: The main goal for 2024 is the Giro d'Italia

The Belgian ruled himself out of the GC completely but hinted that Visma-Lease a Bike would use their options wisely over the final two stages. Whether they still have cards to play after Evenepoel’s expected dominance in the 22km TT remains to be seen.

“It’s not possible, especially with tomorrow, I expect to lose some time,” he said when asked about his overall ambitions.

“I’ve not touched my time trial bike in the winter so it’s definitely not a good preparation for the time trial. Guys like Remco are hard to beat, so I’ll just try my very best and hopefully, we have a few guys in a good position at the end of tomorrow. Then we can play our cards on Sunday. We’ll try and make a good race. It’s always an advantage to have a few guys in front and we’re going really well on GC. It’s a good situation for us.”

For the latest from the Volta ao Algarve, visit our dedicated race page.

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