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He's back! Van Aert takes emotional first victory since Tour de France crash

After having his right hip torn apart by a barrier in the Tour de France time trial last July, Wout van Aert's rehabilitation took a huge step forward on Saturday as he took a morale-boosting victory at the Krawatencross in Lille, Belgium, near his home in the north of the country. 

The Jumbo-Visma rider overhauled Quinten Hermans (Wanty-Gobert Tormans) on the final lap and then soloed in for his first victory since his impressive Tour de France stage win in Albi and his terrible crash.

The three-time cyclo-cross World Champion said the result in Lille wasn't the biggest win of his career but it was a confirmation that he can still win.

"When I crossed the line, a lot went through my mind. This is the confirmation that I'm still able to do it," Van Aert said emotionally.

 “It might not be my biggest victory, but it certainly feels like it. Especially in front of my home crowd. It went through my mind all week: this race and the dream to win here. It is a nice reward after all I have been through in the past months. This is quite emotional.”

Van Aert suffered a huge gash in his right hip when the barrier sliced into his muscles, capsule and connective tissues. He underwent two different surgeries and was afraid he would never walk again, much less race at the highest level in the sport. The Jumbo-Visma camp in December was the first time, he said, that he spent more time riding than in physiotherapy.

Still, he debuted in the cyclo-cross races on December 27 at the Azencross and was selected for Belgium's team for the World Championships, finishing just off the podium in fourth.

World champion Mathieu van der Poel (Fenix-Alpecin) was absent in Lille, and with a third-row start, Van Aert had a bit of work to do to get to the head of the race.

 Hermans hit out early and held a 20-second lead until Van Aert's emotional last lap charge.

"I took my time moving up, and when I was suddenly alone in the pursuit of Quinten Hermans, I saw that everyone was at their limit. I made it up to Quinten, then pushed on and saw I could make a difference," Van Aert said.

Van Aert is due to race his final 'cross on Sunday in Merksplas, but a big storm is expected to blow in overnight. Weather-permitting, he expects to be on the start line.

He will then focus on his road racing comeback for the spring Classics and aim to be Jumbo-Visma's Tour de France team alongside overall contenders Primoz Roglic, Tom Dumoulin and Steven Kruijswijk.