The surprising winner in the Junior Men category of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships was Thijs Aerts. The 17-year-old Belgian took a well-deserved the victory ahead of his two teammates Yannick Peeters and Jelle Schuermans. Pre-race top favourite Adam Toupalik struggled with illness and never played a role of importance.
A modest Aerts played the perfect teammate in the first half of the race when he sat on the wheel of Joris Nieuwenhuis (Netherlands) as three of his compatriots rode away. Seemingly out of contention of a podium result, Aerts' situation turned around when two of the Belgians in front crashed. Aerts then left Nieuwenhuis behind and headed towards the other pre-race favourite Peeters. One uphill section separated Aerts from the rest of the field: combining both strength and technical skills he managed to ride where the rest were forced to run. Aerts reached the finish solo to grab the biggest win in his young career.
"Beforehand I would not have believed it. I was stressing to make it into the Belgian selection and was glad that I survived the cut."
Aerts finished twice on the podium in a World Cup round and then finished third at the Belgian championships. He was selected for the world championships, and two weeks later he showed that he deserved his selection. In Nommay, Aerts grabbed his first ever win in a round of the World Cup, one week before Worlds.
"At the Belgian championships I wasn't super. Nommay was better. I would enter my first ever world championships race and I just wanted to get a good result. This win comes as quite a surprise. It's great of course.
"On one climb I made the difference as I was able to keep riding until the top whereas the others were running. In the last lap I used that advantage to ride away from Yannick Peeters."
Aerts, hailing from Rijkevorsel near Antwerp, studies car mechanics. He realized that there was still a lot of work on his plate. The Telenet-Fidea team already spotted his talent and signed him in October to their team for a three year span in the men's Under 23 category.
"I don't know what the future will bring. I'll be riding in this jersey for three weeks and then the season is over. Next year I'm riding in the Men Under 23 category. This victory is not a guarantee for the future. There's a lot of Junior world champions who didn't make it as a professional rider."