Wout van Aert looks set to participate in the cyclo-cross World Championships in Dübendorf after placing 5th in the Belgian Championships on Sunday. The Jumbo-Visma rider was lining out in only his third race since his return to competition following the heavy crash that forced him to abandon the 2019 Tour de France.
After placing fifth at the Azencross and fourth at Cyclocross Gullegem, Van Aert continued his sequence of top five finishes in Antwerp on Sunday, where Laurens Sweeck claimed the champion's jersey. Van Aert was chasing a fourth Belgian title, though he had never truly entertained the prospect of winning the race.
"That wasn't a goal today either," Van Aert said, according to Het Nieuwsblad. "I still need many training sessions to become the old Wout van Aert.
"It's logical. I'm coming from very far back. I did not think I would be this far along at the moment, so I'm satisfied."
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 during the stage 13 time trial to Pau. He spent more than two months off the bike and only made a belated start to his cyclo-cross season in the final week of December.
The 25-year-old had said that he would wait until after the Belgian Championships before committing himself to riding the Worlds. Although he has not yet confirmed his participation, his performance on Sunday gives reason to believe that he will be on the start line in Switzerland on February 2.
Van Aert has yet to confirm when he will return to racing on the road ahead of the Classics, but he is participating in a training camp with his Jumbo-Visma team this week.
"The desire to ride the Worlds is great," Van Aert said. "The World Championships is a special race and with good planning, that race should fit in with my schedule. I'm going to get better in the coming weeks. I am leaving tomorrow with the team for a training camp in Spain, near Alicante, and together we will look at how the build-up to spring will look like. But I hope to have good news later this week."
While Van Aert was competing in Antwerp, Mathieu van der Poel was calmly going about the business of collecting a sixth successive Dutch cyclo-cross title. The Alpecin-Fenix rider will be the overwhelming favourite to retain his rainbow jersey at the Worlds. Van Aert won the previous three cyclo-cross world titles but had to settle for silver behind Van der Poel last year.
"He is hard to beat at the moment, there is nobody touching his level," Van Aert said. "But a championship must always be raced, and it can change quickly."