Wout van Aert continued his comeback from injury with a solid 4th place finish at Cyclocross Gullegem on Saturday but the Jumbo-Visma rider has said it would be “a miracle” if he finished on the podium of next weekend’s Belgian National Championships.
Van Aert underwent surgery on two occasions after sustaining a deep cut to his upper right leg in the heavy crash that forced him out of the Tour de France during the stage 13 time trial to Pau. He spent more than two months off the bike and only made his return to competition at last week’s Azencross, where he placed 5th.
There were already signs of improvement apparent in Gullegem on Saturday, where Van Aert performed strongly up to the midpoint of the race, when eventual winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) began to stamp his authority on proceedings.
“It was a difficult race, but I rode well,” Van Aert told Sporza. “Still, I feel that there is still a lot of room for improvement. I was very optimistic for the race, but I felt that I could still improve by a big percentage. I am losing out especially on technical sections. My form is not yet what it should be and if you make a lot of mistakes, then you’ll pay for it sooner or later.”
Van Aert was unable to keep pace with chasers Michael Vanthourenhout and Corné van Kessel in the finale, but he finished out his effort with 4th place, 42 seconds down on the lone winner Van der Poel. He will not compete in Sunday’s Brussels Universities Cyclocross, and his next race will be the Belgian Championships next weekend.
The 25-year-old has won the event on three occasions, but he downplayed his prospects of success in Antwerp this time out.
“I’m going to the Belgian Championship in good spirits and I have nothing to lose. It’s also nice to go to a championship like this,” Van Aert said. “I hope to be on course and to get close to the podium. But Belgium is still the best cyclo-cross country, so getting on the podium would be a miracle.”