Wout van Aert’s Saturday started, he even doubted his ability to reach the podium in his first cyclocross race of the season at Superprestige Boom. It ended up on top of the podium in which he apparently didn’t believe, after an hour spent proving his stratospheric form.
“I didn’t expect that at all, of course not,” Van Aert said after the finish.
The Belgian national champion (CX and road) attacked in the second lap of Boom’s incredibly muddy course. He’s soon joined by Toon Aerts (Baloise Trek Lions), but when the latter crashes into a sticky bend, Van Aert lights him up again, and that’s it.
“I felt really good so I was able to progress quickly,” said Van Aert for the quick start to the race. “I just saw that after the technical zone, I had a very big gap and it was a bit strange because we [he and Toon Aerts] were in front, so I knew something had happened. From there, I tried to pick up my pace because it was still a very long race. Apparently it was a bit faster than the guys behind me so it was a perfect race.
By the end of lap three, the Jumbo-Visma rider was already almost a minute ahead of his closest rivals, and that gap only grew as the laps progressed.
“Eventually I had to downshift a gear, but still turned out to be faster than the others.”
Van Aert clocked 1:59 on the penultimate lap, which came in handy when he slipped down a muddy descent and landed heavily on his brand new bike. He got up pretty quickly, slung his Cervelo R5-CX over his shoulder and raced it into the nearby pits.
“The accident at the end was due to the fact that I was starting to get tired,” Van Aert said. “I had a good lead, but it’s dangerous to lose focus.
“It’s always better to stay on the bike. It was a really critical point on the course with a very steep descent and a sharp turn at the bottom. Even in dry circumstances it’s still tricky, so now it’s weird that I’ve only fallen once. I was always a little scared to go down there but now I managed to stay on the bike for the other laps which is good.
As he sped towards the finish line, Van Aert leaned over and slapped his bike, like a horse at the end of a hard gallop, before accepting the crowd’s celebration.
“This is my first race on the new Cervelo R5-CX,” he explained, “and I think it’s pretty amazing to win on it just two days after the official launch, so I think it’s was a nice appreciation from the rider of the bike because everything has to be at the perfect level.
Toon Aerts rallied after his previous mishap to drop his fellow hunters and finish second, 1:40 behind Van Aert, and Lars van der Haar (Baloise Trek Lions) crossed the finish line third. Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) also made his first appearance this cyclocross season, who placed seventh after suffering several drops of wear, like almost everyone else.
Van Aert was, quite simply, a level above the competition who barely saw him the entire race. This bodes well for the continuation of his cross program.
“It’s really motivating to start the season like this,” he said. “I have a lot of races to come, but obviously starting with a win is good for motivation, and I’m already looking forward to next weekend.”