While Mathieu van der Poel was soloing to victory for his sixth title at the Cyclocross World Championships in Tábor, Wout van Aert was enjoying the sunshine in Mallorca on a coffee ride with Visma-Lease a Bike teammates Tiesj Benoot and Julien Vermote.
On the day of the elite men’s race at the World Championships, the Belgian trio completed a 44.5km, hour-and-a-half ride on the Spanish island. Quite the contrast from his close rival’s 58-minute blitz around the course in Czechia, attacking away from the rest of the field on the opening lap and not being seen again until the presentation of his sixth elite CX rainbow jersey on the podium.
“I even miss complaining about everything over nothing,” read Van Aert’s Strava caption.
But scrolling further revealed a 223km, seven-hour training ride just the day prior, with the trio completing 3,000 metres of elevation gain along the route at an average speed of 31.8 kph.
This activity comes towards the end of a Spanish training block for Van Aert and his teammates ahead of his road debut this weekend. On January 21, he took the cyclocross victory ahead of Van der Poel in Benidorm.
The Belgian will open his road account at the UCI 1.Pro Clasica de Almeria on the south coast of Spain this Sunday. The 192.3km one-day race has a stacked start list with Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny), Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) and Van Aert’s teammate Olav Kooij also present.
Van Aert was never going to be present to challenge Van der Poel in Tábor after deciding cyclocross would have to take a backseat. That decision was made along with the team and new coach Mathieu Hejboer that to get the road results he desires in the upcoming spring Classics he would forgo CX Worlds.
Cyclocross has been synonymous with Van der Poel and Van Aert’s careers in their rise through the ranks of cycling as a sport, but the pressure has continued to build for Van Aert to deliver a second Monument, at one of either Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders.
After all the nearly days and second-place finishes of 2023, he’s gone all in for that road glory. Not to say he hasn’t been extremely successful already as a winner of Milan-San Remo, Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, E3 (twice), nine Tour de France stages and the green jersey at the Tour.
But it’s hard not to feel that there should be and could be more. He was second at Worlds in 2023 and 2020, second at the Olympic Games road race in 2021, with six Monument podiums since his last…