After an outstanding nine-minute lead victory at Houffalize's gravel race, cycling enthusiasts are all abuzz about Wout van Aert's aspirations for the upcoming Gravel World Championships. This dominant win has set the tone for high expectations from Van Aert, whose versatile skills have been showcased in diverse terrains and challenging situations.
Adding to his achievements, his triumph at the Tour of Britain exhibited not just his General Classification aptitude but also his prowess in sprint leadouts. Moreover, the recent fifth place at the World Championships time trial in Glasgow and a remarkable win at the Coppa Bernocchi in Italy solidify his reputation.
While 2023 has been an eventful season for Van Aert, it hasn't been without its ups and downs. Labeled as cycling's 'jack of all trades', this year he has faced some near misses, including the Road World Championships and the chase for a second Monument win. His tussle with Mathieu Van Der Poel at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships was another heart-thumping event that ended in a hairbreadth defeat for Van Aert.
Wout Van Aert's Deep-rooted Gravel Passion
However, those familiar with his journey know gravel is close to his heart. Post Paris-Roubaix, Van Aert returned to France, rekindling his passion with a 300-km gravel ride in the Champagne region. This Belgian talent might be new to professional gravel racing but has a commendable track record off-road in Italy, never finishing below fourth at the iconic Strade Bianche race.
In a heartfelt chat with Het Nieuwsblad, Van Aert reminisced about his early experiences with gravel, "I've been riding on gravel since childhood, doing long rides on my cyclocross bike. The pandemic rekindled my love for it, discovering new terrains during training."
His commitment was apparent when, after the Gran Piemonte, he made a beeline to familiarize himself with the UCI Gravel World Championship course in the Veneto region. Despite a momentary setback at Gran Piemonte, he remains optimistic, viewing it as a temporary glitch rather than a dent in his formidable form.
As Sunday's Gravel World Championships approach, all eyes are on Van Aert. The question on everyone's minds: Will this be the stage where he clinches the much-desired rainbow jersey? Only time will tell.