Wout van Aert (Cibel-Cebon) believes that his weight hindered him in the Koppenbergcross after he was dropped on the final climb on Thursday. Van Aert came home for third place but could not keep up the pace of Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) and Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux-Bingoal) the last time up the Koppenberg.
Van Aert hasn’t been hitting the mince pies early, however, and says that it’s his higher muscle mass that made it harder for him to keep the wheels of his rivals on the incline.
"My fat percentage is as low as it used to be,” Van Aert told Het Nieuwsblad. "But in recent years I was much lighter in muscle. On the Koppenberg, I had to go up with guys who are much lighter built.
"I am fairly satisfied, I was able to fight, also mentally. I was ready to go through the wall.”
Van Aert is a multiple winner of the Koppenbergcross, having taken victory there three times in a row between 2014 and 2016. He finished second to his biggest rival, Mathieu van der Poel, who suffered a serious off-day this year, in the 2017 race. However, Van Aert has begun racing on the road in the last two seasons and rode a full classics campaign for the first time this year.
He impressed in the spring with third at Strade Bianche, ninth at the Tour of Flanders and 13th at Paris-Roubaix but said that riding on the road has played a factor in him gaining so much muscle.
"Then I looked like a grasshopper," he said. "I now weigh at least 10 kilos more. I just make muscles easy and we have a hard time keeping things under control. The explanation? My seasons as a road racer. I see no other reason.”
Van Aert will be back in racing action for Belgium at the European Championships in ‘s-Hertogenbosch on Sunday, when he will be teammates with the two riders that beat him on the Koppenberg. After that, he will return his focus to the World Cup competition as he builds up to the defence of his world title. Despite missing out on Thursday, the 24-year-old says he has no intention of trying to shed the muscle for the remainder of the season.
"Fortunately, most of the rounds are flat in the 'cross season," he says. "In addition, it is just an advantage to have more power. Otherwise, I would have to consciously lose muscles.”