Exact Cross Essen: Wout van Aert eases to victory on cyclo-cross return

Jumbo-Visma multidisciplinarian dispatches of field to take a mud-soaked win in Essen, with Jens Adams picking up first podium of the season in second

Clock15:46, Saturday 9th December 2023
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is no stranger to winning in the mud

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is no stranger to winning in the mud

In his first cyclo-cross race of the 2023/24 season, Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert demonstrated his class to put his opponents to the sword and win in style. The Belgian crossed over the line 1:36 ahead of privateer Jens Adams, who commendably took his first podium finish of the season.

Behind the pair, it was Thijs Aerts (Circus-Reuz-Technord) who rounded out the podium, as Belgian cyclists locked out the top-10 on home ground. It was a spectacle to behold as the riders soon became dogged down in a quagmire of mud, which is somewhat poetic ahead of Sunday's CX World Cup round in the snow-capped hills of Val di Sole, Italy.

Read more: Preview: UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup Val di Sole

Full-time 'cross riders no match for the pedigree of Wout van Aert

Both Jens Adams and Thijs Aerts expressed their delight at finish second and third behind Wout van Aert, respectively, such is the acceptance of the Jumbo-Visma rider's superiority.

Ahead of the race in Essen, Van Aert had expressed his trepidation to Wielerflits, noting that he had barely touched a cyclo-cross bike over the past year. However, after a measured start, his class shone through to show his rivals a fresh pair of heels - or a muddy pair, at least.

Throughout the whole day, the course in Essen had been what can only be described as a mud bath, forcing the riders to undertake a significant amount of running through deep, thick mud sections. Perhaps this was a factor in a nervous few laps that began the race, with all eyes on Van Aert but the Belgian content to remain in a small group until the fourth lap.

It was only at this point that the 29-year-old began to increase the pressure on the pair of Adams and Aerts, sporting a textbook poker face all the same. It quickly became obvious that Van Aert had been gauging his effort throughout, and on the fourth lap he was able to develop a lead by riding sections which had forced others to dismount and run.

Van Aert, of course, not only has a large engine from his season on the road, but the years of experience in the 'cross field that guided him to three World Championship titles. The Belgian confirmed in a pre-race interview that he was definitely not going to ride the CX Worlds in 2024, but his unwavering bike handling saw him leave his rivals scrambling to mount their chase behind.

For the likes of Adams and Aerts, however, it was to be a futile effort. In the final three laps, there were no riders within sight of Van Aert and the returning star continued to simply extend his advantage and soak up the applause of the brave souls standing at course side.

The difficulty of the course in such conditions was made evident by the large gaps that opened up throughout the whole top-10, which at one point had included Zdeněk Štybar (Jayco AlUla). The three-time CX world champion was making his first appearance of the winter as he nears retirement, but after a promising start, was unable to hold onto the top-10 which became ensconced with Belgians.

Not until Rune Ceusters in 19th position did any riders cross the line in a group, with the first 18 riders at the finish arriving so alone. For Van Aert, his final few laps were a procession, but this was still not enough time for the Belgian to wipe clean the front of his jersey. Such was the thick layer of mud on his Jumbo jersey, Van Aert would have to settle for celebrating without revealing his sponsors to the camera.

It would not be a dampener on high spirits, however, with Van Aert sharing a joke with his wife and soigneur as he rode on beyond the line. His calculating performance was a shot sent across the bow to the rest of the 'cross field, who will no doubt wonder what the Belgian may be able to achieve with some proper training behind him.

Van Aert will now head to Spain for a training camp, having picked up his fifth career victory in Essen.

Behind the podium places, Lander Loockx (TDT-Unibet) put in one of his best performances of the season to finish fourth, whilst Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal finished just shy of Loockx with Yorben Lauryssen and Viktor Vandenberghe in fifth and sixth, respectively.

Race Results

1

be flag

VAN AERT Wout

1H 01' 51"

2

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ADAMS Jens

+ 1' 36"

3

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AERTS Thijs

+ 2' 51"

4

be flag

LOOCKX Lander

+ 3' 12"

5

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LAURYSSEN Yorben

+ 3' 14"

6

be flag

VANDENBERGHE Viktor

+ 3' 19"

7

be flag

BAESTAENS Vincent

+ 3' 32"

8

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HORNY Clément

+ 4' 33"

9

be flag

VERHEYEN Thomas

+ 4' 58"

10

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JANSSEN Wout

+ 5' 16"

Provided by FirstCycling

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