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Wout van Aert, Zoe Bäckstedt crush reduced fields at Ethias Cross Essen

Van Aert untouchable with near-two-minute victory ahead of long journey to Val di Sole for Sunday's snowy World Cup.

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Wout van Aert and Zoe Bäckstedt lived up to their billings as pre-race favorites to dominate a boggy slog at the Ethias Cross Essen on Saturday.

17-year-old sensation Bäckstedt (Tormans CX) rode solo from the opening laps to win her race by more than one minute. Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) blazed away from lone challenger Thijs Aerts (Baloise-Trek) to make it two-from-two in his return to the ‘cross field after winning on debut last weekend.

“It was a tough race in such a flooded circuit,” van Aert said. “Of course I am very satisfied with two out of two. I was of course the big favorite, but it’s a challenge to make that happen.”

Both the men’s and women’s races saw a low-key startsheet after most of the world’s top ‘crossers chose to focus their efforts on Sunday’s Val di Sole World Cup rather than facing the long overnight journey from Belgium to Trentino.

Tom Pidcock, Toon Aerts and Eli Iserbyt all skipped the men’s race, while Marianne Vos, Denise Betsema and Puck Pieterse were among the leading women to fly directly to the snow-capped Italian resort of Val di Sole.

Lucinda Brand misses this weekend of racing to attend a team training camp, while U.S. champ Clara Honsinger returns Stateside in an attempt to defend her title at the nationals in Ilinois on Sunday.

Van Aert was the one leading name willing to take on the transfer and is planning on a flight at 7.30 Saturday night before a long drive to the mountains Sunday morning.

“It haven’t raced on snow since childhood,” van Aert said of Sunday’s race. “That was certainly not my thing then. But who knows, it may have changed in the meantime.”


The largely flat, grassy track was heavy with mud after a week of heavy rain, and the barrier-laden back-and forth-track of long straightaways became a test of both running speed and diesel power.

Bäckstedt powered away early in the women’s race and soon built a more-than-comfortable lead to top a fresh-faced podium completed by 25-year-old Laura Verdonschot (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingaol) and 22-year-old Anna Kay (Starcasino CX).

The result continues the 17-year-old’s phenomenal season after also scoring the junior road race rainbow jersey, three European track titles and six CX victories this year.

“It was tough, though – very heavy,” she said. “Every time I had to run through the mud it caused my back a lot of pain. But it was a nice course and I could take a lot of my own lines. Once I almost went over my handlebars, but otherwise it went well. Because the mud was so deep the running was really hard.”

Van Aert overcame a mishap in the opening laps that saw him get caught up in the barriers to monster to a 1:47 win over lone chaser Aerts, who was equally impressive as “best of the rest.” Aerts’ teammate Pim Ronhaar took third after launching an early challenge to van Aert before fading.

Will van Aert make it three from three in the snow and ice of Val di Sole on Sunday?

He sure won’t be afforded as straightforward a ride as he got in Essen on Saturday.