The elite men’s race at the 2019 Belgian Cyclo-cross Championships proved one of the most exciting editions in years, with Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) capturing his first tricolour jersey in Kruibeke, beating world champion Wout van Aert in the process.
The 25-year-old Aerts dealt best with the rain, wind and mud at the banks near the Scheldt river and finished well ahead of the defending Belgian champion Van Aert. Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Bingoal) captured the bronze medal, some distance behind the leading pair.
Aerts finished more than a minute ahead of Van Aert and he had time to celebrate the victory as the crossed the line. He pointed to the big smile on his muddied face before falling into the arms of his girlfriend.
“I really didn’t expect this,” Aerts said afterwards. “Early on I was going really well but after a while I was struggling on the off-camber sections and Wout rode away. I nearly hung my head but then I thought back about what I’ve learned, about staying focused. I bridged back up to Wout and was able to ride away.
“The smile when crossing the line was to show I’m super happy. I’m proud of my level this season and I wanted to show that. The championships are often marked by special finish moves.”
Straight from the start it was clear that Aerts, Van Aert and Michael Vanthourenhout were a level above the rest of the field on the muddy course in Kruibeke. It featured countless slippery off-camber sections and no time to recover. Aerts kept the pace high during the second lap and Vanthourenhout got dropped.
Van Aert seemed to be struggling up until that moment but halfway the race the world champion took over the command and on an off-camber section he powered away from Aerts. The latter quickly bridged back up to Van Aert but he clearly was in the hurt box. On a long off-camber section off the Scheldt dyke, Aerts hopped off the bike quite early and got dropped again.
Van Aert hit the fourth of six laps with a lead of 12 seconds over Aerts – the biggest gap between the duo up until that moment. Somehow, the situation turned around again as Van Aert started to struggle. One lap later, the two were together again and at the start of the penultimate lap, Aerts powered away. He kept extending his advantage and Van Aert eventually cracked.
Aerts began the final lap with a lead of 17 seconds on Van Aert, and he made no more mistakes from that point on, while the world champion’s head began to drop.
Van Aert reached the finish line nearly a minute behind Aerts and indicated that he ran out of gas. “I didn’t have the legs to win today. I’m completely dead. During the opening laps I struggled with the pace but then I moved into the lead and managed to ride away. I thought I was improving but then I started to make countless mistakes. I think I blew my engine when trying to ride away. On this course that’s lethal. It’s only possible when you’re good,” Van Aerts told Sporza.
When asked about the mounting pressure to win the World Cup or the world championships, Van Aert focused only on Sunday’s race. “There’s always a lot of pressure on my shoulders. I need to show I can win in every race. First I need to deal with the disappointment of today because I came here to capture a fourth title and that didn’t work out. Toon deserved the title. Tonight I’ll enjoy a pack of frites and a special cervelat,” Van Aert said.
Coming into the Belgian championships, Van Aert was the top favourite while Aerts was viewed as the major contender. Aerts is still in the mix at most classifications but might have lost some energy there. “Everybody is telling me to forget about the classifications because the championships are more important, but I think a real cyclo-cross rider needs to be good in every race. That I can prove this today means a lot. There’s not a lot of people who know that I starting doing mental training this summer. That taught me to do what matters: to ride well technically and make no mistakes. Before I knew it, I came back to Wout,” an emotional Aerts said.
Much further back, Vanthourenhout did what was expected from him and that was to finish on the podium, though the multiple running sections weren’t in his favour. Eli Iserbyt surprisingly captured fourth place, just off the podium. The under-23 world champion impressed by finishing well ahead of much more experienced riders.
Thijs Aerts, brother of winner Toon, was another surprising rider to crack the top 5 in Kruibeke. He clenched his fist when crossing the finish line, deservedly proud of his own performance but at the same time celebrating his brother’s victory.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Toon Aerts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||1:08:54|
|2||Wout Van Aert (Bel)||0:00:52|
|3||Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Marlux - Bingoal|
|4||Eli Iserbyt (Bel) Marlux - Bingoal||0:03:50|
|5||Thijs Aerts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:04:07|
|6||Jens Adams (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Vastgoedservice||0:04:11|
|7||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Steylaerts - 777||0:04:32|
|8||Kevin Pauwels (Bel) Marlux - Bingoal||0:04:38|
|9||Wietse Bosmans (Bel) Creafin Tüv Sud||0:05:00|
|10||Nicolas Cleppe (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:05:06|
|11||Quinten Hermans (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:05:26|
|12||Tom Meeusen (Bel) Corendon - Circus||0:05:58|
|13||Jim Aernouts (Bel) Telenet Fidea Lions||0:06:21|
|14||Laurens Sweeck (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Vastgoedservice||0:07:22|
|15||Yannick Peeters (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Vastgoedservice||0:07:59|
|16||Vincent Baestaens (Bel)||0:08:37|
|17||Daan Soete (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Vastgoedservice||0:08:55|
|18||Kenneth Van Compernolle (Bel)||0:09:06|
|19||Xandro Meurisse (Bel)||0:09:24|
|20||Ingmar Uytdewilligen (Bel) Tarteletto - Isorex||0:09:44|
|21||Mathieu Willemyns (Bel)||0:11:15|
|22||Berne Vankeirsbilck (Bel)||0:12:47|
|23||Jens Gys (Bel)|
|24||Senne De Meyer (Bel)|
|25||Kenny Roelandt (Bel)|
|26||Edwin De Wit (Bel)|
|27||Yelle Leaerts (Bel)|
|28||Loic Hennaux (Bel)|
|29||Jens Teirlinck (Bel)|
|30||Niels Koyen (Bel)|
|31||Yoni De Bock (Bel)|
|32||Brecht Vandenheede (Bel)|
|33||Nick Van De Kerckhove (Bel)|
|34||Pieter Meelberghs (Bel)|
|35||Vincent Oger (Bel)|
|36||Jochem Danckaers (Bel)|
|DNF||Braam Merlier (Bel) Creafin Tüv Sud|
|DNF||Tim Merlier (Bel) Creafin Tüv Sud|
|DNF||Dario Tielen (Bel)|
|DNF||Jelle De Bock (Bel)|
|DNF||Robin Alderweireld (Bel)|
|DNF||Dieter Vanthourenhout (Bel) Marlux - Bingoal|
|DNF||Diether Sweeck (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Vastgoedservice|
|DNF||Wouter Goosen (Bel)|
|DNS||Yorben Van Tichelt (Bel)|