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Van Aert went into the race as red-hot favorite and duly delivered, beating Toon Aerts and Michael Vanthourenhout to claim his fourth national title.
The Jumbo-Visma star soloed away from the pack in the opening 15 minutes after Vanthourenhout and pre-race contender Eli Iserbyt suffered slow starts. Aerts and Laurens Sweeck led the chase of the charging leader through the middle of the race before Vanthourenhout bridged across and Sweeck faded.
Van Aert continued confidently without being put at threat through the final laps. He crossed the line solo, putting his thumb to his mouth in a gesture honoring his son Georges, who was born Monday.
Aerts took second-place, 20 seconds back, while Vanthourenhout took third a further 20 seconds later.
“I would like to dedicate this victory to my son Georges and my wife Sarah,” an emotional Van Aert said after the race. “It’s been nine months that she’s been taking care of him. And this week … Thanks, Sarah!”
Van Aert said that having a newborn child in the house didn’t make for the best preparation for the race, but the joy of becoming a father more than outweighed any lost sleep.
“I didn’t want to say it, but I have barely slept six nights,” he joked. “But apparently you don’t need that if you live on a pink cloud.”
In the women’s race, Cant took her 12th straight title after fending off a challenge from Lotte Kopecky, while Alicia Franck took third place.
Cant took an early lead and never looked back as she rode to the title in Meulebeke on Sunday. Kopecky and Franck soon separated from the field as they led the chase, and from there, the podium places were sealed.
Kopecky kept the race leader pegged at 15 seconds through the back-half of the race as Franck fell off the tempo. While Kopecky didn’t allow Cant much breathing room, the 25-year-old was unable to bridge the final gap to her veteran rival and had to settle for second.
Though Cant has long dominated the championships race, she said the competition remains exciting nonetheless.
“It is always a bit exciting to ride a Belgian championship,” Cant said. “It has been a long time since I once again wore a team jersey …. I am glad that I can wear the tricolor again.”