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Van Aert is still recovering from a heavy crash at the Tour de France last month and is not expected to be competitive during the cyclocross season.
“I still hope that I can do a number of cyclocross races this winter if only as preparation for the spring classics,” Van Aert told Het Nieuwsblad.
Meanwhile, it’s still full steam ahead for van der Poel. The multi-faceted star is building towards the road world championship in Yorkshire on September 29, but after that he will switch gears for a winter of ’cross racing. Last year he won the Superprestige overall, six World Cups, and capped off the winter season with the world title. Belgian Van Aert dueled with his Dutch rival all winter, but even now admits that rivalry is all but lost. Van Aert won the cyclocross world title in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Last year, he was second to van der Poel.
Both stars have begun a transition to the road. Van Aert is nearly fully committed, signing with a WorldTour team in July, and then winning the Albi stage of the Tour de France. However, four days later, flying though the checks in the Pau time trial, he crashed and suffered deep cuts in his right leg.
Van Aert has not raced since, as the severity of the injury was worse than initially thought. But he is confident he’ll be ready to race top level road by next spring.
“The big difficulty is that cyclocross demands a lot more strain from my hip, and all the muscles are used when compared with normal road cycling. It is my secret hope to be at the races,” Van Aert said. “The goal is to really reach my level again in the spring and preferably a little better.”
The Van Aert- van der Poel rivalry could instead come in the spring on the road at events such as Milano-Sanremo and the Amstel Gold Race, which the 24-year-old van der Poel won in his debut this year.
There seems to be no stopping van der Poel, as he steamrolls toward his next major goal: the gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in mountain biking. The new European cross-country champion counts several major fat tire wins this season, including five World Cup short tracks and three World Cup Olympic distance events.
He is now back on the road, building towards the Yorkshire worlds. In his return he won the opening stage of the Arctic Race of Norway.
“Whether I can become world champion this year? Maybe so, you have to believe in it,” van der Poel said in Norway.
After the worlds, he heads to Tokyo for a mountain bike test event on October 6. Then it’s back to northern Europe for the start of the ’cross season. If he takes a break, he would start after Koppenbergcross.
Van Aert will be watching from home, at least early on.
“I hope that the moment will come soon when I can leave my crutches behind,” said Van Aert. “I miss the bike. Anyway, I had planned a vacation after the Tour de France. But now boredom is kicking in. If friends or anyone else goes cycling, I am jealous.”