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The Hoogerheide ‘cross worlds next February forms the denouement of a winter calendar that will steer Van Aert on a collision course toward a mouthwatering rainbow clash with archrival Mathieu van der Poel.
“I like to express my ambitions. That’s what I’m going to do now. The world championships are close to home, on a circuit where I became world champion in the U23 category. The worlds are my only major goal of the winter,” Van Aert told Het Laatste Nieuws.
“Mathieu van der Poel is the main competitor. It is also a home cross for him. He will also be motivated.”
Van Aert confirmed this week an initial 2022-23 ‘cross schedule that kicks off at the World Cup in Antwerp on December 4.
The Jumbo-Visma ace will hit the mud six more times that month as he scrambles for form after a recent illness postponed his planned winter curtain-raiser at the end of this month in Kortrijk.
“The illness wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t ideal either. If I did have to get sick, it wasn’t so badly timed. When I started training with the bike again at the end of October, I had lost a lot of condition,” Van Aert told HLN.
The Christmas “kersteperiode” will throw Van Aert into a cyclocross boot camp of five races in eight days. Jumbo-Visma is expected to confirm a further round of tune-up ‘crosses in January ahead of the must-win Hoogerheide worlds.
“I know I can handle [the busy week],” Van Aert said. “I need to be able to catch up on that ‘cross rhythm that I’m missing. I want to prepare as well as possible for January during the Christmas period.”
The race for rainbows in Hoogerheide on February 5 will see Van Aert compete for the CX world title for the first time since Van der Poel topped him in the beachy race in Oostende last January.
Van der Poel’s 2020-21 sand-swept victory put the Dutchman four-three in front in an elite-level worlds rivalry with Van Aert that also stretches back through the junior ranks. With defending champion Tom Pidcock and specialist supremos Eli Iserbyt, Lars van der Haar and Laurens Sweeck also in the mix, Van Aert will want to refind his ‘cross legs, fast.