The three-time world champion, who won the Belgian title three times on the bounce between 2016 and 2018, delivered on his heavy favourite status with an assured display in Meulebeke.
Although it was apparent early on that the battle behind would be for the minor podium places, Van Aert was now allowed to run away with it. Toon Aerts (Baloise Trek Lions), in particular, kept him honest, even reducing the deficit on the final couple of laps as he claimed the silver medal.
Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), who rallied after an early crash, couldn’t cope with Aerts’ late charge and had to settle for bronze.
2020 champion Laurens Sweeck (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) made the early running but faded in the second half of the race, taking fourth at the finish. His teammate Eli Iserbyt, who came into the race with an arm injury, crashed early on and abandoned half-way through the race.
Van Aert put his right thumb in his mouth and raised his left arm in the air as he crossed the line, in tribute to his newly-born son, Georges.
"I didn't want to say it before the race, but I slept in the camper for six nights. That is not very comfortable at all," he said. "I would like to dedicate my victory to my son Georges and especially my wife Sarah. Nine months taken care of and this week… thank you Sarah.
"I felt good in the beginning and was able to expand that gap in a good way. From the middle of the cross I was à bloc. After that, it was mainly to keep the lead, which was difficult enough. I had far from the energy I wanted, but I am satisfied with this title."
Van Aert was the big favourite and didn’t take long to assert his dominance. Sweeck made the strongest start, as Iserbyt and Vanthourenhout both hit the deck. The former abandoned, while the latter will wonder what more he might have done had he not suffered that bad luck. Quinten Hermans (Tormans) was another rider who hit the deck a little later, taking him out of the chase group and contributing to a selective opening couple of laps.
It was lap 3 where Van Aert decided to try and make the difference. Having finished the previous lap with Sweeck, he steadily powered away from last year’s winner, prising open a 15-second gap by the end of the lap. Aerts was moving through the gears and was almost with Sweeck, while Vanthourenhout was still scrambling back behind.
Van Aert barely put a foot wrong from then on, and the drama in the race was more about the battle for second. Aerts dropped Sweeck on lap 4, before the pair came back together on the following lap, and Vanthourenhout joined them. On lap 6, Aerts stormed clear once more, Sweeck fell away, and the pattern was established. With three laps to go, Van Aert had increased his lead to 25 seconds.
Aerts managed to take a few seconds out of that in the closing laps, but in truth it was going to take a big error or slice of misfortune to deprive Van Aert of the tricolour jersey.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Wout Van Aert (Bel)||1:04:12|
|2||Toon Aerts (Bel) Baloise Trek Lions||0:00:20|
|3||Michael Vanthourenhout (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal||0:00:41|
|4||Laurens Sweeck (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal||0:01:12|
|5||Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin - Fenix||0:01:56|
|6||Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Credishop-Fristads||0:01:59|
|7||Quinten Hermans (Bel) Tormans Cyclo Cross Team||0:02:01|
|8||Diether Sweeck (Bel) Credishop-Fristads||0:02:05|
|9||Jim Aernouts (Bel) Baloise Trek Lions||0:02:40|
|10||Daan Soete (Bel) Group Hens - Maes Containers||0:02:48|
|11||Lander Loockx (Bel) Group Hens - Maes Containers||0:02:57|
|12||Timo Kielich (Bel) Credishop-Fristads||0:03:00|
|13||Tom Meeusen (Bel) Group Hens - Maes Containers||0:03:08|
|14||Emiel Verstrynge (Bel) Tormans Cyclo Cross Team||0:03:13|
|15||Jens Adams (Bel)||0:03:21|
|16||Toon Vandebosch (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal||0:03:29|
|17||Anton Ferdinande (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal||0:03:37|
|18||Yentl Bekaert (Bel) Baloise Trek Lions||0:03:42|
|19||Vincent Baestaens (Bel) Group Hens - Maes Containers||0:04:36|
|20||Arne Vrachten (Bel)||0:05:18|
|21||Lennert Belmans (Bel) Iko - Crelan||0:05:25|
|22||Gianni Siebens (Bel)||0:05:29|
|23||Ward Huybs (Bel) Baloise Trek Lions||0:06:16|
|24||Robin Alderweireld (Bel)||0:06:28|
|25||Witse Meeussen (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal||0:06:38|
|26||Thomas Verheyen (Bel)||0:07:03|
|27||Seppe Rombouts (Bel)|
|28||Wout Vervoort (Bel)|
|29||Ingmar Uytdewilligen (Bel)|
|30||Arno Van Den Broeck (Bel)|
|31||Dolf Pemen (Bel) Proximus - Alphamotorhomes - Doltcini Ct|
|32||Arne Baers (Bel)|
|33||Joachim Van Looveren (Bel) Proximus - Alphamotorhomes - Doltcini Ct|
|34||Clement Horny (Bel)|
|35||Julian Siemons (Bel)|
|36||Jens Gys (Bel)|
|37||Elio Clarysse (Bel) Proximus - Alphamotorhomes - Doltcini Ct|
|38||Ydris Salomez (Bel) Proximus - Alphamotorhomes - Doltcini Ct|
|39||Justin Laevens (Bel) Proximus - Alphamotorhomes - Doltcini Ct|
|40||Vincent Oger (Bel)|
|DNF||Thibau Nys (Bel) Baloise Trek Lions|
|DNF||Jelle Camps (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal|
|DNF||Joran Wyseure (Bel)|
|DNF||Eli Iserbyt (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal|
|DNS||Arno Debeir (Bel)|
|DNS||Thijs Aerts (Bel) Baloise Trek Lions|
|DNS||Andreas Goeman (Bel) Baloise Trek Lions|
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