Leader turned domestique Van Aert still bossing the Tour

LAVAUR, France (Reuters) - A team leader in the one-day classics, Wout van Aert turns into a domestique de luxe come the Tour de France -- yet it has not stopped him annexing two brilliant stage wins in three days when allowed to play his own card by Jumbo-Visma.

Cycling - Tour de France - Stage 7 - Millau to Lavaur - France - September 4, 2020. Team Jumbo-Visma rider Wout Van Aert of Belgium after winning the stage. Pool via REUTERS/Stef Mantey

The Belgian won the prestigious Strade Bianche and the Milan-Sanremo ‘Monument’ classic earlier this month, when he had the whole Dutch outfit at his disposal for the one-day events.

Yet on the Tour, Van Aert’s main job is to protect his leaders, Primoz Roglic and Tom Dumoulin, on the flat stages, and to pull the team in the mountains.

When circumstances allow, though, as on Friday’s chaotic stage seven, he can be let off the leash to devastating effect.

He performs a job very similar to that of former Milan-Sanremo and ex-world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, at Ineos Grenadiers.

“We’ve had a bit of small talk with Michal, and it’s true that he has a very important role with Ineos,” Van Aert, a man of few words, told reporters after his stage win.

While most with his uncommon talent might balk at domestique duties, Van Aert is enjoying himself, citing the team’s mindset as key to his own success on the race.

“It’s a different approach of course,” the 25-year-old said.

“In the cycling world, our leaders know they’re nothing without guys that help them.

“I know this very well because in a lot of races, I’m a leader myself. It may be hard to explain with words but if you have leaders like Primoz and Tom, they’re thankful.”

When he’s not burying himself with his mountain slogs, Van Aert gets his own chance to shine -- and his leaders do their bit to repay him.

“Today, Tom kept me in position in the last four kilometres and it cost him some energy, but he knew I could win,” he said.

Van Aert, however, knows there are some limits to his freedom. While he could go for the green jersey for the points classification, he understands it would be detrimental to the team’s main goal of overall victory.

“It costs a lot of energy and it’s just not possible to do my work for the team and focus on the intermediate sprints and bunch sprints,” he said.

Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by Ian Chadband