Van Aert trained in the sand and wasted no time showing off his skills. 2014 Koksijde UCI Cyclocross World Cup, Elite Men. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

Van Aert, shown here at the 2014 Koksijde UCI Cyclocross World Cup, fought back from an early crash to take first in the last UCI race of the season. © Bart Hazen / Cyclocross Magazine

OOSTMALLE, Belgium – Wout van Aert (Vastgoedservice – Golden Palace Cycling Team) finished off his season with a solo victory at the 2015 Internationale Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle, a day after winning at the Clay Cross Lebbeke.

Van Aert crossed the line with time to spare, hoisting his Colnago in the air after a tough day’s racing, having clawed his way back from a crash early on, apparently breaking several spokes which could have ended the day right there. Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb – Napoleon Games Cycling Team) finished second, dragging it out to the line with newcomer to the Elites, Laurens Sweeck (Corendon-Kwadro), who put in an impressive show.

Tom Meeusen (Telenet Fidea Cycling Team) put on a show of his own, table-topping  the barriers the first couple of times around as he put in an early dig to shake up the field. By the fourth lap the front of the race had rejoined and the counter attack by Sweek created the initial elite selection. Meeusen managed to stay in the mix, but finished fifth for the day, wheelieing across the finish line for some extra style points.

Lars van der Haar (Team Giant – Alpecin) was the first to react, latching onto Sweek’s wheel before being joined by Pauwels. Mathieu van de Poel (BKCP – Powerplus Cycling Team), who reported having back pain, found himself caught out by the move, finishing out of the top fifteen for the day.

Sven Nys (Crelan – AA Drink Team) abandoned in lap eight, also out of contention, having missed the selection early on, unable to make up the deficit.

By lap six the group had reformed and included van Aert, Sweeck, Pauwels, van der Haar, Meeusen and Vincent Baestaens (BKCP – Powerplus Cycling Team). Van Aert took to the front and opened up a lead followed by Sweeck. Pauwels and van der Haar bridged to Sweeck, but van Aert’s lead continued to increase. The race for the remaining podium positions was now underway.

Sweeck once again tried to attack but Pauwels was able to reel him in, the pair turning on to the finishing stretch together. Sweeck fought to hold off Pauwels but faded in the last few meters, having led the sprint. Van der Haar finished fourth a few moments later.

Also crossing the line in style, Bart Aernouts (Corendon-Kwadro) waved to the crowds in what will be his last appearance as a professional racer. The 32-year-old Belgian announced his retirement form cycling earlier this month, stating on his website, “I have a lot to thank the lovely cyclocross sport and am very proud of my own modest performance. I want first of all my family and the people who have always helped me, thank you very much.”

Aernouts leaves the sport after 11 years as a professional. “I’m everywhere received with open arms and was always treated with respect. What will I do after my career, I do not know, I think about everything, this will be clear in a while,” summed up Aernouts.

 2015 Internationale Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle, Elite Men’s Brief Results:

1. Wout van Aert
2. Kevin Pauwels
3. Laurens Sweeck
4. Lars van der Haar
5. Tom Meeusen
6. Gianni Vermeersch
7. Vincent Baestaens
8. Tim Merlier
9. Sven Vanthourenhout
10. Radomir Simunek