Wout van Aert will return to action for the first time since he crashed out of the Tour de France when he lines up at the Azencross in Loenhout on Friday. The Belgian had announced his intention to compete in the event earlier this month and on Monday he received the all-clear from his surgeon to compete in the event.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into the bustle of cyclo-cross,” Van Aert said, according to the Belga news agency. “In training, I have felt for a while that things are going in the right direction, but it is nice to be a competitive rider again.”
Van Aert crashed in the finale of the stage 13 time trial in Pau on the 2019 Tour and sustained a deep cut to his upper right leg after he clipped a roadside barrier. He underwent surgery in Pau to repair the torn skin, capsule and muscle of his upper thigh and hip, and he later underwent a second operation in hospital in Herentals. He spent two months off the bike before beginning his rehabilitation in earnest in September.
The 25-year-old was given the green light to compete in Loenhout after consulting with his surgeon Dr. Toon Claes on Monday. Van Aert preferred not to line out in the races in Zolder and Baal this week, citing their proximity to the Jumbo-Visma training camp as well as his own attachment to the Azencross.
“Loenhout is just one of the nicest races in which to resume,” Van Aert said. “It’s nice and close to home. I have been watching cyclo-cross since childhood, and the atmosphere during the end of the year period is always good here. Moreover, I was able to win here twice as a pro.”
Van Aert has finished on the podium in each of his last five appearances at the Azencross, a sequence he expects to come to an end this week. Indeed, the three-time world champion downplayed his prospects of achieving significant results this winter, but he will hope his truncated cyclo-cross campaign will help him regain full fitness in time for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the cobbled Classics that follow.
“I don't expect much from it,” Van Aert said. “Specific cyclo-cross training hasn’t been on the programme this winter. In the week before Loenhout, I have two training sessions scheduled in the forest, and that's it.
"Cyclocross is still the best thing there is, but I just want to have fun this winter. I want to use the cross to get better. In terms of results it will probably be a lost year.
“If I can give everything for an hour on Friday, then I will be a satisfied rider. It is not my intention to make it extra difficult for myself."