Pity the world’s best cyclocrossers.
The 2015/16 season has seen them staring at Wout van Aert’s backside for practically every classification race.
BPost Trofee 2 rounds, 2 wins
Superprestige 4 rounds 3 wins
UCI World Cup 2 rounds 1 win
His only significant losses have come back to back in early November. Over one weekend he finished second behind Lars van der Haar at the European Championships and second behind Kevin Pauwels at the Ruddervoorde round of Superprestige. Van Aert’s performance this season has been phenomenal. When you consider the fact that he is still only 21, then it’s even more impressive.
Again, pity the world’s best cyclocrossers.
They could be spending the next ten years staring at Van Aert heading in to the distance. They must be shaking their heads. The thought had surely crossed their minds that, with Sven Nijs retiring this season, they would have a chance to step up and dominate world ‘cross. As things stand Pauwels, Van der Haar, and Co are possibly not going to get that chance. Especially when you consider that the young Dutchman, and reigning world Champion Mathieu van der Poel has barely ridden a cross race in anger this season and could make things more difficult for the chasing pack. But I digress.
So how do you solve a problem like Wout van Aert?
The way I see it, there are a few short and long term possibilities around how the cross scene will develop.
1. Van Aert can’t sustain his form and gives ground to the others around him.
For such a short career it’s difficult to see how he will react to a significant drop of form, long term injury and so on. However we did get a hint of his resilience during the World Champs, when a mechanical held him up. He refused for a long time to give up the gold medal place to Van der Haar and continued to chase Van der Haar deep in tp the race. A lot of people felt Van Aert was the strongest on the day. It is worth noting that he did not clinch first in some of the big jersey races over the last year, ie the Belgian, World & Euro Champs. Pressure can do strange things.
2. Van Aert gets worked over by his opponents.
You can see this already. Nijs attacks and if he is brought back then Pauwels jumps and so on. Sometimes Van Aert is made to work, sometimes not. If all the ‘toppers’ force Wout to take the chase every time, then they could tire him out and one of them takes the win. Over the longer term this could grind Wout down.
3. Tactical riding
Van Aert seems to be a bit less confident on trickier, more technical parcours. Lars van der Haar commented on his confidence going into the the technical sections at the Euros. And he does seem to wobble from time to time. So maybe the others needs to target him more at certain races or during certain sections. Unfortunately for VDH and Co, you can learn technical skills and Van Aert has time on his side, plus a good coach in Niels Albert.
4. Van Aert quits cyclocross.
For many this might be the only way to beat Van Aert- he takes up road racing full time. Like Boom and Stybar before him, Wout too could look to broaden his horizons and earn greater fame and a larger wage by changing discipline. He spent time on the road last year with the Flemish cobble maestro Tom Boonen, who was convinced Van Aert could be as dominant on the road as he is in the mud.
Only time will tell if Van Aert will get the chance to dominate cyclocross, but it will be interesting watching how he develops and what the chasing pack do to catch up.
My thanks to Rojaws and Hammerstein