Wout van Aert claims victory in the Tour of Britain, with Carlos Rodríguez coming in first in the last stage.
Wout van Aert’s second place finish in the climbing stage to Caerphilly earned him his second Tour of Britain overall title. While he showed great form throughout the race, this victory was not as easy as his win in 2021.
In the mountains of southern Wales, Ineos’s talented Spanish rider Carlos Rodríguez, who ultimately won the stage, joined forces with local cyclist Steve Williams to challenge Van Aert to his limits. This was the first of eight stages where Van Aert’s team, Jumbo-Visma, was unable to dominate the race.
Following Williams, who was representing Great Britain, and Rodríguez’s breakaway on the climb up Bryn Du, located above Aberdare in the Rhondda region, Van Aert’s team was scattered on the high moorland. The two leading climbers quickly gained a significant lead ahead of a small group chasing behind. As Van Aert faced the possibility of losing his race lead, which he had earned by winning Thursday’s stage into Felixstowe, he struggled to keep up. He admitted, “I found it very difficult and didn’t think it would be possible to maintain my position in the general classification.”
The only choice for the 28-year-old was to stay composed and rely on his teammates to catch up to him. He also hoped that other teams would help out before they reached the last two challenging climbs on Caerphilly Mountain in the final eight miles. “I remained calm because I knew there were two climbers ahead who would use a lot of energy to reach the finish circuit.”
During the pause, Williams and Rodríguez surged ahead, building a lead of over 90 seconds as they waited for Steven Kruijswijk and Nathan Van Hooydonck to catch up.
With the help of multiple other teams, the pair’s advantage decreased rapidly, similar to the disappearing puddles after the rain during the start of the race in the hills. By the time they reached Caerphilly, they were only a few seconds ahead.
The first climb of the mountain broke Williams, a 27-year-old from Aberystwyth who has quietly forged a good career racing for the Bahrain-Merida and Israel-Premier Tech team, and who this year had won the Arctic Race of Norway. Rodríguez forged ahead on his own, but although he has had an outstanding year with a stage win and fifth overall in the Tour de France, he was less of a threat to Van Aert, having lost time in a crash in the Cotswolds on Saturday’s stage into Gloucester.
The Spanish rider had to cross the finish line 40 seconds before Van Aert in order to secure victory. However, with only one 7km lap remaining, Van Aert held a 20-second lead, making the outcome of the race uncertain. Without any teammates to assist him, Van Aert had to carefully manage the gap between himself and the Spanish rider while also staying strong and not losing ground to three other contenders for the overall title: Magnus Sheffield from Ineos, Tobias Johannessen from Norway, and Damien Howson from Australia. All three were only 3 seconds behind Van Aert in the overall standings.
Although Rodríguez was able to secure a stage win for the Ineos team after Tom Pidcock’s departure on Saturday, he only finished 11 seconds ahead of Van Aert. This marked the Belgian’s third road race victory of 2023. After a frustrating mid-season, it was finally his turn to have some luck on his side.
The end of the week was marked by six exciting finishes in the first six stages, with 52 riders all tied for second place, only three seconds behind Van Aert after Friday’s stage in Harlow. However, there were some challenges along the way. The most important climbing stage was interrupted twice, with a break in racing between 87km and 77km to go. This was due to an accident involving a motorcyclist which had closed a section of the road. While the incident was not related to the race, it did require the entire group to take a detour through side streets, with racing temporarily paused and the riders traveling at a controlled speed.