'Stupid crash' on the Paterberg costs Wout van Aert at E3 Saxo Classic

Belgian says he has pain in hip and elbow after incident that wrecked his chances of matching Mathieu van der Poel

Clock16:48, Friday 22nd March 2024
Wout van Aert battled on after a crash took him out in the worst moment of the E3 Saxo Classic

© Getty Images

Wout van Aert battled on after a crash took him out in the worst moment of the E3 Saxo Classic

Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike) was left to rue a costly mistake at E3 Saxo Classic, as an avoidable slip on the critical Paterberg climb left him on the deck just as his great rival Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) was soloing clear.

Van Aert, the winner of the past two editions of the ‘mini Tour of Flanders’, had kept a watchful eye on the world champion all afternoon and was responding to the latest acceleration at the bottom of the Paterberg with 44km to go.

Riding in the smooth gutter, he attempted to nip out onto the cobblestones, but his front wheel slipped on the ridge and he ended up on the ground. He remounted and launched a spirited response, moving back up through the chasing pack and then bursting out of it on the subsequent climb of the Oude Kwaremont to set up a pursuit match with Van der Poel.

However, having closed to within 15 seconds, he started to fade on the Karnemelkbeekstraat and from there the gap steadily increased all the way to the finish in Harelbeke, until Van Aert was caught by Jasper Stuyven (Lidl-Trek) and finished third after not being able to muster a sprint in the rain.

In the end, as he said after the finish, it was the crash that cost him the day.

"It changed everything," a shivering Van Aert said after the race. "Later on, it was a long chase that wasn't successful. It was kind of a stupid crash and very unfortunate for the rest of the race, but it’s what it is."

Van Aert had come into the E3 with question marks over his form, having traded in his usual race programme – including Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo – for a long block of altitude training. The decision was designed to put him in top shape for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, which have thus far eluded him, and the crash made it difficult to decipher exactly where Van Aert’s form lies.

He faded in his pursuit of Van der Poel but, then again, the crash had left him with a lot of ground to make back up, and it was remarkable in its own way that he got so close – and left the rest of the big names trailing in the process.

What's perhaps more concerning, however, is the impact of the crash, with Van Aert suggesting it had left a mark.

"I fell harder than I first thought," he said. "Now I have some pain in my hip and elbow - I'm already stiff on my right side. Hopefully it's nothing bad."

Van Aert’s new schedule means he’ll skip Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, which he won in 2021 and gifted to his teammate Christophe Laporte last year. Instead, he’ll race Dwars door Vlaanderen next Wednesday ahead of the Tour of Flanders, with Paris-Roubaix coming on the following Sunday.

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