Toon Aerts, the 27-year-old Belgian on the Baloise Trek Lions squad, has been racing international and elite cyclocross races for a decade, notching a European championship, a World Cup title, a Superprestige title, and three bronze medals at worlds along the way. This year, Aerts raced the first two World Cups in the United States, finishing in sixth in Waterloo and and fourth in Fayetteville, and he’s on the start list for the third and final American stop in the series in Iowa City, Iowa.
Aerts leverages his years of experience to his advantage while racing.
And, he admits, he was never a hockey player.
VeloNews: What would you say the biggest differences are in cyclocross from when you first started racing?
Toon Aerts: Disc breaks make a big difference in cyclocross, so the technique you use with cantilevers — like we did in our younger years — it was another sort of technique. It was more with feeling and it was slower because why would you sprint into a corner if you have to brake for a long time ahead of it? Now you’re more aggressive, more sprinting and braking hard. That was a thing weren’t doing when we were riding cantilevers, so that’s maybe the biggest difference.
Lucinda Brand, sitting with Aerts, nods her head in agreement.
VN: What are you seeing as far as crossover from other cycling disciplines?
TA: I think as a cyclocross rider, in the first place you need also road races for your speed, and your endurance because you have to stay in good condition from September to February and to be in top shape for that long period. That’s what you get with road racing. But then you have mountain biking. It’s more extreme with jumping, and those things are not what you get in a cyclocross race.
If you want to be a good cyclocross rider, I think you have to start racing first on the road, and then try to have good technique, and then cyclocross and then you will become a better cyclocross racer.
VN: What are the most noticeable differences between American ’cross fans, and fans in Belgium or The Netherlands?
TA: What you see in Belgium is when the race is in a particular city or town, people of only that town are coming to the race. But in America, we race over here, and people are of the whole area, not only of this town come to watch.
VN: What races are you most looking forward to this season?
TA: Yeah, I even won this race [a past edition of the Waterloo World Cup], so for me it was a bit like coming home again. I won my first World Cup over here. So, all the people around in the Trek factory over here are people we see every year again, and we’re always happy to be here again.
We should do well if there’s a lot of climbing. If there’s some rain involved with mud. I think that’s a track which really suits me. But then the series classifications — that is something every year is worth coming back, like World Cup, Superprestige — things like that. It’s very important to me to try to end up as high as possible.
VN: Do you play other sports? I’m told that ice hockey is very popular at Trek.
TA: No sports on the ice. Sports like ice skating, speed skating, short track it’s not really happening. It’s not that big in Belgium. I think ice hockey over here is like cyclocross in Belgium.