In 2005, it was a young Niels Albert who, at 19 years of age, jumped away early in the Jaarmarktcross in Niel and then held on to finish second behind world champion Sven Nys. Flash forward to 2013, and Nys is again in the rainbow bands and denying victory to a young Belgian, this time named Wout Van Aert.
The race, traditionally held on Armistice Day, may not be part of one of the major cyclo-cross series, but it is one of the few opportunities for the U23 riders to test themselves against the elites. Van Aert, in his second year as an U23, leapt off the front on the first lap after taking the hole shot, and only Nys would catch him.
"I attacked early because I wanted to put on a show for the fans," Van Aert told cyclo-cross.info. "I didn't expect to hold out for so long."
"When I got the hole shot, I decided to keep on at my own pace. I saw that only Sven Nys had come up from the chase group. When he caught me, I tried to hang on as long as possible so that I had the best chance to stand on the podium. Then he cracked me, and I had to reset. I was really surprised that I was able to stay away from the chasers."
Van Aert said riding behind Nys was a good experience, for as long as it lasted. "It was fantastic to be able to ride in the wheel of Nys. All the crowd cheers as he comes along. It's fantastic, and something I had never experienced in the U23s. In his track, I also noticed that my lines were not right before."
Although he showed that he is able to ride with the best in the elites, Van Aert has no plans to graduate early from the U23 ranks.
"No, because I want my second year in the U23s to be good. This shows again that the level at the U23s is not to be underestimated. We have all risen to the level of Mathieu van der Poel. You see also that Corné van Kessel and Wietse Bosmans, with whom I could rival last year, have made a smooth transition."
Nys himself was impressed and sees Van Aert as the future of 'cross in Belgium. "One race does not say everything, but Wout can be a great," Nys said. "The next generation has risen."