A work of Aert: How Wout van Aert is redefining what it means to be a bike racer

With victories in time trials and bunch sprints, over iconic mountains, stage races and classics, Wout van Aert is redefining what it means to be a bike racer

Wout van Aert NFTs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“Excuse me,” says a woman’s voice from behind me. “Could you move so I can get a photo?” I’ve been standing idly by the start of stage two of the Tour of Britain observing the best all-round cyclist in the world Wout Van Aert as he politely waves to the crowd from the sign-in rostrum. Even here on this half-finished Devonshire housing estate the Belgian has fans. I duck out of the woman’s shot.

The fact she wants a picture is hardly surprising. In the flesh the Belgian is striking. When I interview Van Aert, seasoned photographer Simon Wilkinson is so stunned by the Jumbo-Visma rider’s anime matinee-idol looks he remarks the Belgian could easily be a model. We both wonder if the blonde streak in his fringe is natural - you can see it in pictures from his junior racing days - or not but decide it’s best not to ask lest we spoil the magic.

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(Image credit: Future)

Van Aert’s looks are, somewhat irritatingly, the least of his gifts. His exploits on the bike are what has won him fans everywhere from Flanders to Devonshire building sites. Winning on mud, sand, gravel, tarmac, up Tour de France mountains, in sprints and in time trials has propelled him to the top of the sport.

In Belgium he’s among the biggest names going. “He’s a big cycling star already but he’s a star out of cycling also,” says Marc Ghyselinck, journalist at Het Laatste Nieuws. “But he doesn’t appear on other pages of the paper. He’s a bike rider before, between and after.” He says that since his performance at the Tour in 2020, when he won three stages, Van Aert is now regularly spoken about in the same breath as Eddy Merckx. And with that comes a certain level of popularity.

Ghyselinck points to a poll in 2005 of “The Greatest Belgian” conducted by public TV broadcaster Canvas, Radio 1 and newspaper De Standaard. It was topped by “leper priest” Father Damian, who’s story has been told and retold for over a hundred years. Third was Merckx. Only three other cyclists made the list Briek Schotte (71st), Rik Van Looy (78th) and Rik Van Steenbergen (85th).

“Wout isn’t there [on the popularity podium] yet,” Ghyselinck says. “But in terms of popularity he’s about to pass Tom Boonen and he’s only 26 he could get there if he keeps building his career like he is now.”

You can read the full article in the November 18 issue of Cycling Weekly magazine. On sale in store and available to order online. If you want more great pro interviews, you can subscribe to CW and make a huge saving on the cost this Black Friday.

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Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, World Championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the Middle East. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.