“The road ahead is not some predetermined path that I am forced to trod, but it is a rich byway that I can help create,” -Craig D. Lounsbrough
Such words are ones European Continental Champ Toon Aerts (Telenet Fidea Lions) took to heart as he lined up to ring in the new year at the race named after his team director.
The 2016 cyclocross season has been an exciting, dramatic one, but yet looking at the results sheets for the year, it was anything but unpredictable. Wout van Aert or Mathieu van der Poel on the start line? It was a very safe bet that one of the dominant duo would cross the line first.
With such a pattern, even with the injured Mathieu van der Poel sitting this race out due to a bruised neck, Aerts could be forgiven for tucking in behind Van Aert (Crelan Charles) and trying to hold on as long as he could on the hard, cold track in Baal.
However, Aerts, perhaps inspired by teammate Ellen van Loy’s fast start and almost-successful bid to hold everyone off earlier in the day, grabbed the holeshot and didn’t let go. Behind, teammate Tom Meeusen knew it was go time, and the two quickly formed a two-man team time trial that appeared to leave everyone else frozen in their tracks.
Could one of the two return a Trek-sponsored rider to victory after a two-year hiatus and stop Van Aert from winning his third GP Sven Nys in a row?
For several laps, it looked like the two-lion time trial would work. Behind, Van Aert and Michael Vanthourenhout (Marlux – Napoleon Games) gave chase, but Van Aert, riding his new Felt cyclocross bike, looked tentative. After the race, Van Aert revealed the frozen ruts and corners got into his head, and caused him to ride tentatively as he thought about the upcoming season’s goals. “I had too much fear in the corners,” he said.
Aerts meanwhile had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Out of each corner, and up every climb, the continental champ sprinted, and soon shed Meeusen and had the World Champ Van Aert nearly thirty seconds in arrears. Sven Nys and the Telenet Fidea started to round up the unopened bottles of bubbly from last night’s party in preparation of some early 2017 success.
Was the preparation premature? Early animator Meeusen was suddenly upside down after a front-wheel-eating ditch. Michael Vanthourenhout motored by, and a chase group was on the move, powered by Van Aert, Vanthourenhout’s teammate Kevin Pauwels and Wietse Bosmans (Beobank-Corendon), who was doing his best stand-in for his injured team captain Van der Poel. “Next man up!” could be heard from the Beobank-Corendon team trailers before the race…or at least what sounded like a Dutch version of the cheer.
Van Aert hit the wooden fencing on lap four, but the sting of that collision and the disorienting top tube logos of his new ride started to wear off. With three to go, he swapped bikes for less air pressure, and with two laps remaining it was time to get to work. The World Champ, head bobbing side to side, wasn’t ready to acknowledge Aerts earned the right to create his own Baal byway.
One by one, he dropped his companions, and set off on bringing back the two between him and a third-straight GP Sven Nys victory—Aerts and Vanthourenhout. With a half lap remaining Van Aert dropped Vanthourenhout, and it looked like he might chill the hot start to 2017 by Telenet Fidea and catch Aerts.
Aerts pushed on, focusing on starting with 2017 with a perfect record. “It was a matter of avoiding mistakes,” said Aerts. The conservative riding looked like it might be a mistake itself, as Van Aert ate up the gap, spat out seconds, and had Aerts within sight. Suddenly, the gap was single digits.
Yet with Meeusen nowhere to be seen, in the end, his fast start and teammwork with Aerts proved to be the difference maker. No, his over-the-bars crash didn’t hold up other competitors, but his cornering mastery provided to be invaluable in guiding Aerts to the fast lines.
Aerts, following Meeusen’s tubular tracks from early laps, stayed upright and mistake free on the final lap and crossed the victory for his second win of the season.
After the race, he was quick to credit his teammate for the win. “[Early on] I learned how Tom [Meeusen] attacked the corners,” he said.
In the end, Aerts avoided the 2016 season’s predetermined paths, and yet followed Meeusen’s path to create his own rich byway to victory.
Stay tuned for a full photo gallery. See race highlights and full video reps the 2017 GP Sven Nys here.
2016 GP Sven Nys DVV Verzekeringen Trofee Brief Results - Elite Men
|2||Wout VAN AERT||BEL||23||1:02:59||60|
|7||Corne VAN KESSEL||NED||26||1:04:32||17|