Cyclocross

Wout van Aert leaves rivals reeling with crushing ‘cross debut: ‘It’s incredible’

Van Aert smashes season standouts Iserbyt and Aerts with bullish performance at Superprestige Boom: 'I had not expected this'

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Wout van Aert plowed a trench through the boggy mud of Boom so deep that his rivals were left lost and legless.

Van Aert had made his cyclocross debut Saturday at what he described as “91 percent.” Even at nine points from his best, van Aert served up a huge performance that left season standouts Toon Aerts and Eli Iserbyt reeling in his wake.

“It’s incredible what Wout did here in his first race,” said Aerts, the one rider able to mount some opposition to van Aert’s assault.

Despite mounting an early challenge to van Aert’s hot start from the middle of the grid, Aerts had to settle for second, a mammoth 1:40 back.

“You knew [van Aert] would join the front quickly, but the fact that he immediately did it after one lap indicates a lot of self-confidence,” Aerts told Belgian media. “This ride will make him even happier for the coming weeks. I think for me second place was the highest achievable.”

Also read: Van Aert blasts-off in boom

Van Aert’s massive motor made short work of the deep boggy mud of the Boom circuit. He was in the lead group within the opening lap and started throwing the power down in the second circuit, leaving only Aerts in opposition.

World Cup and Superprestige series leader Iserbyt said he barely even caught a glimpse of the multi-discipline megastar after he lost the wheels early on.

“I didn’t really see van Aert,” Iserbyt joked. “His lead was huge. I think he has reached a consistently high level since last winter, also on the road. You can see that Wout is at home on such a course. In order to follow him, I have to hope for a slightly faster race.”

The ankle-deep mud and rolling hills made the perfect parcours for van Aert’s muscling, high-torque pedal-mashing Saturday.

An untimely crash by Aerts in the second lap opened the door for the Belgian champ to engage TT mode and – as Iserbyt attested – he was never to be seen again.

“I had absolutely not expected this,” van Aert said afterward. “I already felt at the start that I was good because I could move up quickly.”

“I didn’t see Aerts’ crash but after that, I suddenly saw that I had a large gap. From then on it was important to find my own pace and that was apparently faster than that of the rest. I surprised myself with that – I didn’t expect to make such a big difference.”

It wasn’t all pitch-perfect, however.

Just like so many other riders, van Aert eventually succumbed to the sodden, slippery surface. A lost wheel and shoe snarled in a barrier on the penultimate lap saw him clattering on top of his bike and going back-first into the bog.

But by then the race was all over. Aerts was nearly two minutes down, and van Aert had time to run his battered bike to the pits before riding to victory in front of a Wout-mad crowd.

First flowers of the ‘cross season for van Aert. How many more to come? (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Van Aert will now follow a busy schedule through the winter, culminating with the Belgian championships and a possible appearance at the Arkansas worlds.

He couldn’t have asked for a more mojo-boosting start.

“I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from this victory, but it is certainly a much better start than I had hoped for,” he said. “This is good and it shows that all those training hours in recent weeks in winter conditions have not been in vain.”

Also read: WvA and MvdP to lock into festive throwdown December 26

It won’t always be WvA’s way, however.

Stalwart ‘crossers like Aerts, Iserbyt, and Lars van der Haar will fancy their chances on faster, more technical tracks, Tom Pidcock will improve after his season-starting ride into seventh, and Mathieu van der Poel will enter the fray in the festive period.

Van Aert is likely to gain momentum through the weeks to come – but for now, there’s a sense Iserbyt, Aerts, and Co. may prefer him to stay at “91 percent.”

“Looking at the gap van Aert made, the chances of winning are fading for the Christmas season,” Aerts said. “We will try to get on the podium with him a few times … It is very impressive. I was not expecting it.”