Belgium’s Wout Van Aert (Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace) and Dutch rider Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus) have announced this week that they will not compete in the under-23 race at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, as originally planned, and will instead race with the elite men.
The championships will be held in Tabor, Czech Republic, from January 31 to February 1, where the two young talents will line up against an elite field that includes the likes of Kevin Pauwels, Sven Nys, Klaas Vantornout, Tom Meeusen, Lars van der Haar and Rob Peeters, among others. Czech Republic’s Zdenek Stybar will not return to defend his title in the elite men’s race because he is still recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in a crash in October.
Laurens Sweeck (Corendon - KwadrO Cycling Team) is now the favourite to win the under-23 world title. He most recently won the under-23 race at his Belgian National Championships. He was also second at both Scheldecross and Zilvermeer, and won the under-23 race at the World Cup in Heusden-Zolder, beating both Van Aert and Van der Poel.
Van Aert, 20, won the under-23 world title last year in Hoogerheide ahead of Michael Vanthourenhout and Van der Poel. He consulted with his team after his National Championships in Erpe-Mere, where he place third in the elite men’s race, and has decided against defending his world title in order to race with the elite men instead.
He is a proven contender among the elite men having won multiple races this season at the World Cup in Koksijde, Zilvermeercross and Bepost Bank Trofee races in Oudenaarde, Hamme, Essen, Loenhout and Baal.
He has a strong hold on the Bpost Bank Trofee series with just one race remaining at Krawatencross in Lille on February 7. He moved into the series’ after his winning performance in Essen and went on to win the sixth round at Azencross and the seventh round in GP Sven Nys. He has a 6:07-minute lead ahead of Pauwels and 7:09 ahead of Nys.
Van der Poel, 19, is also a proven winner at the elite ranks. He recently won the elite title at his National Championships in Veldoven. He is sitting at the top of the elite men’s Superprestige series rankings with 77 points, one point ahead of Pauwels and two points ahead of van der Haar.
He took over the series’ lead after winning the sixth round in Diegem, and won the round in Gieten earlier in the season. The seventh round in Hoogstraten will take place on February 8 and the finale in Middelkerke on February 14.