Although the Dutch team will hold their first full training camp in southern Spain in the middle of December, more than a third of the squad gathered in northern Belgium this week for a series of taster rides.
On Tuesday, they went out to recon the course for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and on Wednesday they were back in the same area but following the course for the Tour of Flanders.
Van Aert, the team’s Classics leader who won the Omloop and E3 Classic this year before being ruled out of Flanders with COVID-19, lead the outings alongside new signing Dylan van Baarle, the Paris-Roubaix champion.
Unable to wear his new colours until his contract switches on January 1, the Dutchman stood out among his black-and-yellow teammates in the bright orange of Ineos Grenadiers’ training kit.
Joining the pair for the rides were Christophe Laporte, who crossed the line arm-in-arm with Van Aert at E3, and Ties Benoot, who is back riding after breaking his neck this summer. Other members included new signing Tosh Van der Sande, Edoardo Affini, Maarten Wynants, and Mick and Tim Van Dijke. The only major absentee was Nathan Van Hooydonck.
“At first we wanted to bring the group together, as a kind of team building,” team director Grischa Niermann, who joined Tuesday’s ride, told Nieuwsblad (opens in new tab).
“At the same time, this is the ideal time to test the material. And if you have to do that anyway, you can just as well combine it with a reconnaissance of a course. Not all riders live in the area.
“Also because we were very lucky with the weather. Could have been a few degrees warmer, but it stayed dry all day while rain was predicted. Ideal weather for a training ride.”
Recon rides are an ideal opportunity to test bike set-up, most importantly wheels, tyres and tyre pressures, but Jumbo-Visma have the added complication of switching groupset suppliers from Shimano to SRAM, although it’s unclear if they are riding SRAM this week.
The Omloop recon on Tuesday totalled 135km, looping around the early climbs in the Flemish Ardennes before tracking the well-known finale over the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg and the run-in to Ninove.
Remarkably, Van Aert warmed up for the ride with an 8.7km run, which he ticked off in a shade over 40 minutes. On Strava, the Belgian titled the ride ‘Jumbo’s on a mission’.
The following day it was the turn of the Tour of Flanders, although they did not strictly follow the race route. Taking place in much the same area, they headed early for the key final climbs of Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, before taking in the likes of Koppenberg, Taaienberg, and finally Hotondberg. The ride was 75km for most but Van Aert added an extra 20km back to his hotel.
Van Aert will begin his cyclo-cross season on December 4 before joining the Jumbo-Visma training camp and then returning to ‘cross through to the World Championships in Hoogerheide on February 5. He is expected to once again make his road season debut at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, although Niermann indicated nothing is decided.
“No, from the presence of Wout you cannot conclude whether or not he will be at the start. We are still drawing up the programs, which will be announced on December 22.”