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Van Aert comes back strong after long injury layoff

Van Aert put in a strong performance to finish fifth in his first race since injury, but remains uncertain about starting 'cross world championships in February.

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After five months away from racing, Wout van Aert was back in action at DVV Trofee Azencross Friday, and he surprised even himself with how well it went.

The Belgian cross-discipline star raced for the first time since crashing out of the Tour de France in July, where he suffered a deep wound to his leg. Van Aert was hoping to just test the legs and get round, with no expectation of a good result. Turns out that he finished in fifth place.

“I certainly amazed myself,” he admitted.

Despite expecting nothing from his comeback ride, Van Aert rounded the first bend of the race at the front of the peloton, and then powered a chase group after a lead trio went away in the early laps. He placed fifth, narrowly losing out to Tim Merlier in a sprint for fourth place.

“It was a great pleasure to be able to cross again, I really enjoyed today,” Van Aert said after the race.

Having won the race twice, Van Aert had the benefit of experience at Louenhout, and shot off the grid to take the holeshot.

“Fortunately I have not forgotten that yet,” Van Aert said. “With this course it was handy to be on the right track and that way I could immediately take the lead. I think I was able to give the audience immediate value for money! ”

“In the second half I might have had a little trouble with my right hip, but it went really well… it felt good and I hope I can continue like this in the coming days.”

Van Aert is sitting out Sunday’s Superprestige race at Diegem, but will be back at Cylocross Gullegem, January 4, and will ride at the Belgian cyclocross championships a week later.

He remains undecided about whether he will line up for the world championships in early February however. Having taken the title for three consecutive years, he knows the pressure will be on to take the battle to defending champion Mathieu van der Poel in Switzerland.

“The world championships is a very nice cross, but given the results I have already achieved there, I don’t have to go there just to ride,” he said.

“I really only want to go if I can perform. If we consider that possible after the Belgian championship, we make a plan to be as good as possible there too. ”

After racing in the mud, Van Aert will return to road duties with Jumbo-Visma. First comes anticipated starts at the spring classics, and in summer, Jumbo-Visma has confirmed he will race the Tour de France in support of the Dutch team’s trio of leaders Primoz Roglic, Tom Dumoulin and Stephen Kruijswijk.