Wout van Aert’s hopes of winning the UCI Gravel World title were wrecked mid-race after a crash and second mechanical problem left him several minutes behind the lead group.
Van Aert was one of the big-name favourites for the second edition of the Gravel World Championships in the Veneto region of northern Italy and was hoping to end his 2023 season with a rainbow jersey after a long series of prestigious but ultimately frustrating second places.
“In gravel races, everything has to go well in terms of material and that was not the case today,” Van Aert explained, after sitting on the road beyond the finish line, tired, bloodied and covered in dust after eventually finishing eighth, 8:21 down on new Gravel World Champion and fellow road racer Matej Mohorič.
“I had an early problem with my saddle, then crashed and had a puncture too. The crash and the puncture were my fault for being careless.
“When I had a puncture I couldn't get my tire repaired quickly. Something was broken in the valve and I lost a lot of time because of that. From there I was well down.
“I knew I could never get to the front again, but I didn't feel like quitting either. I just rode at my own pace and rode from group to group."
The Jumbo-Visma rider was mobbed by the Italian gravel fans at the start when he emerged from the team bus. He admitted he was nervous before the start but had a place on the front row of the start grid.
He was well-placed after an opening lap of the Le Bandie lake and then was part of an early selection of 25 riders. A first mechanical problem saw Van Aert dropped but he chased back on and was part of a group of 60 riders that went through the finish area at Pieve di Soligo after 46 km.
However, a second problem proved more serious and cost Van Aert several minutes. At one point it was reported that he was 9:00 down on the front group and that his timing chip could have been damaged. However, Jumbo-Visma confirmed he had crashed and suffered a second mechanical problem. A photograph captured him repairing a front puncture.
After 96 km, at the second time through Pieve di Soligo, Van Aert was in a small chase group timed at almost 8:00. He took a bidon from a Jumbo-Visma soigneur and rode on but his hopes of a world title were over, as was his 2023 racing season.
Despite his problems, the pain in his legs and his disappointment, Van Aert promised to race more gravel, especially the 2024 World Championships that will be held in Belgium.
“It was still a great experience. I’d certainly like to do it again. I really enjoyed it and I think it is something that really suits me. Next year with the World Cup in Belgium it will be really special.”
🇮🇹 #Veneto2023Bad luck for Wout again, as he trails by a big margin after a crash. 😞90 kilometres left in the race. pic.twitter.com/okJyAOYGGwOctober 8, 2023
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