For elite cyclists, 2024 looks set to be a fantastic year.
There’s the Grand Tours as usual, of course, as well as the UCI World Tour to contest. The Olympic Games in Paris will provide the icing on the cake.
For Wout van Aert, opportunity knocks. The 29-year-old will, assuming he’s fit and injury-free, ride in at least one of the Grand Tours and represent Belgium at the Olympics in the road race and time trial disciplines.
And yet, it’s in slightly lower-key surroundings in which one of his best chances of major glory lies…
The Tour of Flanders, part of the UCI World Tour, has been held for more than a century now, remaining one of the most intriguing races on the calendar thanks to its stunning vistas and that unique cobblestone terrain.
Its list of winners reads like a who’s who of Belgian cycling, so Van Aert would love to add his name to the roll of honour. At sportsbook betting odds of 6/1 he’s fancied to do exactly that, although strong competition will naturally come from defending champion Tadej Pogacar (9/4) and Mathieu van der Poel (3/1).
Eddy Merckx, Johan Museeuw and Rik Van Steenbergen are all multiple winners of the Tour of Flanders, with the race won 69 times by Belgians – the next most successful country is the Netherlands with 12 victories. So expectations of a Van Aert triumph on home soil are high.
— The Tour of Britain 🇬🇧 (@TourofBritain) September 11, 2023
He will, of course, have to find a way past Pogacar over the 170-mile course. The Slovenian became only the third man to win the Tour de Flanders and Tour de France during their careers earlier this year, powering to a 16-second victory over Van Der Poel and leaving Van Aert, Mads Pedersen and co trailing more than a minute behind.
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Amid all the exciting racing available next year, elite cyclists may have some difficult scheduling decisions to make.
The Tour de France will conclude on July 21, leaving just six days until the Olympic time trial event and less than a fortnight until the road race, which will see participants ascend more than 2,800m of elevation gain around the French capital.
Decisions, decisions then… how will the best in the business manage their diaries?
For Van Aert, it has been heavily rumoured that he will skip the Tour de France altogether – a huge surprise, given the race’s prestige, the nine previous stage wins to his name and the fact that, as a multi-disciplinarian out on the road, the Belgian is one of the strongest contenders to end the domination of Pogacar and 2023 champion Jonas Vingegaard.
🤩 Here it is, the official route of the #TDF2024!
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) October 25, 2023
That’s a tough price to pay for juggling your schedule, but the consolation prize is that it will enable Van Aert to enter the Giro D’Italia, a race which would suit his speed while minimising the amount of climbing to be done.
Given that others are set to skip the Giro in favour of the Tour de France, a chance to push for a Grand Tour victory may just present itself to the Belgian in what should be a stellar year.