Late on the Friday evening before the 2022 Tour of Flanders, Wout van Aert made the video he never wanted to make.
Kitted out in a Red Bull baseball cap and Jumbo-Visma team hoody, sat in a blank, featureless room and appearing very much like he was being interviewed under police caution, Van Aert announced he had tested positive for Covid-19 and would miss the race on Sunday.
“Yesterday [Thursday] I woke up with sore throat, two quick tests proved I tested positive for Covid-19,” he said.
Wout van Aert began trending on Belgian social media and journalists at the weekend papers frantically rewrote their leading stories. On Saturday, Flanders woke to the news that their biggest cycling star would be absent from the biggest race of the year.
Wout van Aert delivers the good news on his social media accounts on Friday before Tour of Flanders
His absence leaves the men's Tour of Flanders wide open. In Sportwereld, the sports section of leading newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, chief cycling correspondent Wim Vos predicted “anything is possible” without Van Aert on Sunday.
“The decorated winner at home, infected with corona. A new top favourite who was crooked from back pain a few weeks ago. A dark horse who has won the Tour but nobody knows if he can race on cobblestones,” Vos wrote. “De Ronde has never been so odd.”
Reporting Van Aert’s positive at the “worst possible moment”, the paper also highlighted Jumbo-Visma’s ‘Plan Plan B(enoot) and Plan C(hristophe Laporte).’ Meanwhile in his weekly column in the newspaper, Quick-Step-Alpha Vinyl boss Patrick Lefevere expressed his disappointment over the news.
“Jumbo-Visma waited a long time with communication,” he wrote. “I would really rather have seen it differently. For Wout himself, and because Jumbo-Visma would certainly have controlled the race. Now that responsibility rests with Alpecin-Fenix and to a lesser extent also with us [Quick-Step].”
Het Laatste Nieuws led on how the “corona beast” came for Van Aert at the worst possible moment. “The main prize is gone for Van Aert,” added reporter Marc Ghyselinck. “Now it’s just a matter of time if he’ll be fit for Paris Roubaix.”