Mud and Guts
Belgian Wout van Aert (Crelan-Charles) hammered out his most powerful performance of the season when it mattered most, to three-peat as UCI Elite Men’s Cyclocross World Champion.
Each time van Aert extended his lead over chief rival Mathieu Van Der Poel of the Netherlands, the thousands of Belgian fans who packed the course on the famed Cauberg Climb thundered their approval. Early in the race, it appeared van Aert and Van Der Poel would be locked into one of their close duels. But van Aert’s lead simply kept growing. Eventually, van Aert would finish 2:13 ahead of fellow Belgian Michael Vanthourenhout, with Van Der Poel finishing close behind for the bronze.
The three-straight Elite Men’s Worlds victory is nudging van Aert toward legendary status is cyclocross-crazy Belgium, where van Aert has faced high expectations from fans since he was a teenager.
“He’s a star from 2014,” said his chief mechanic, Kristof Cop, referring to van Aert’s U23 World Title four years ago. “From then he’s better and better.”
Van Aert rode SRAM RED eTap HRD with 46/36t chainrings and an 11-28 cassette along with Zipp 202 Firecrest Disc-brake Tubulars, Zipp SL Speed stem and seatpost, and a Zipp Service Course SL-70 Ergo handlebar.
Van Aert is coached by fellow Belgian, Niels Albert, himself a multi-time world champion. Albert said coaching top performers like van Aert is about keeping them confident and positive.
“Once they are on the top it is always difficult to stay on the top. It’s more difficult than coming to the top. So most of the time you have to talk to the guys and give them trust and a good feeling.”
Van Aert’s ascension to the top of cyclocross also builds on Belgium’s reputation as the world’s top cyclocross nation. Even as the sport has become more international, van Aert and his fellow Belgians still collect the bulk of the podium places.
“In Belgium, you have big teams for cyclocross,” Alberts said. “They have Belgian sponsors and they want Belgian guys to promote…. That’s why it’s so big in Belgium, I think.”
And all of those Belgian fans were sure happy on Sunday.
All Photos © Balint Hamvas/cyclephotos