Wout van Aert, one of the big favourites for this weekend’s Tour of Flanders, was “almost killed” after receiving a punishment pass from the horn-blaring driver of a concrete mixer lorry earlier this week, according to retired pro and training partner Jan Bakelants.
Speaking on the Wielerclub Wattage podcast, former Tour de France yellow jersey wearer Bakelants said he was training with Van Aert, fresh from his imperious displays at the E3 Saxo Classic and Gent-Wevelgem, and Belgian cyclocross rider Daan Soete at the time of the “harrowing” incident on Tuesday.
The trio were in the middle of a 151km ride from Van Aert’s home in Herentals, taking in parts of the Netherlands close to the city of Eindhoven, when, somewhere across the border, a lorry driver seemingly took exception to one of cycling’s biggest talents not using a nearby cycle path.
According to Bakelants, the lorry driver deliberately close passed the group, forcing Van Aert and Soete off the road, with the Jumbo-Visma leader almost ending up “under” the motorist’s concrete mixer.
> Lorry driver who killed Davide Rebellin reportedly got out of cab, looked at dead cyclist, then drove off
“Because the cycle path on the road was not adapted for speeds of 40 to 45km/h, we rode on the road,” the recently retired Bakelants, who rode for Intermarché, RadioShack, AG2R, and Quick-Step during his 14-year career, told podcast colleagues Tom Boonen and Dirk De Wolf.
“Suddenly I heard the horn of a concrete mixer, which drove past us. As befits a true road hog, the driver of the concrete mixer closed the door on us while honking.
“Wout had no choice but to ride Daan Soete into the side. Otherwise, our wild benefactor [a reference to Van Aert’s decision to “gift” Gent-Wevelgem to Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte] would probably have ascended to heaven.
“Wout was almost dead. He was literally almost under the concrete mixer. It was really harrowing.”
All smiles after a much-needed coffee (credit: Jan Bakelants, Strava)
The shocking incident comes just under four months after recently retired pro Davide Rebellin was killed in a hit-and-run collision involving a lorry driver, while just last month up-and-coming 18-year-old Spanish pro Estela Domínguez was also killed by a hit-and-run truck driver during a training ride.
> Up-and coming Spanish cyclist killed by hit-and-run lorry driver
But following his spot of quick thinking, Van Aert will thankfully be able to line up at the start of the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, where he will have the weight of a whole country on his shoulders as he aims to capture his maiden Ronde win following a dominant cobbled classics campaign from both him and his Jumbo-Visma team.
After outsprinting Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar – expected to be his big rivals for Ronde glory on Sunday – at Friday’s E3 Saxo Classic, the 28-year-old set tongues wagging, and ensured days of filled columns in the Belgian press, after appearing to “gift” his Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte the victory at Gent-Wevelgem two days later, prompting a seemingly endless debate about the sport’s values and ideals.
Following a week of tedious controversy and a terrifying near-death experience, Van Aert will certainly be hoping that the next time he makes the headlines will be when he’s standing on the top step of the podium in Oudenaarde on Sunday afternoon.
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