Wout van Aert is among the illustrious rank of riders who began their career riding the mud before transferring to the road, alongside Cadel Evans, Jakob Fuglsang, Peter Sagan and Matthieu van der Poel. Starting in cyclocross, Van Aert dominated the under-23 ranks, winning the Superprestige and World Championships, before replicating this at the senior level. For three successive years, the Belgian won the World Championship and National Championship titles.
In recent years, Van Aert has lived up to his potential as a Classics talent. He finished third in his Strade Bianche debut and 13th in his first Paris-Roubaix, both in 2018. In 2019 he want on to take third in Strade Bianche (again), second in the E3 BinckBank Classic and sixth in Milan-Ran Remo.
After a successful Classics campaign in 2019, there were high expectations for his Tour de France debut. Van Aert had already won two stages at the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Belgian National Time Trial Championships. The high expectations were met with his maiden Grand Tour stage victory in stage 10 from Saint-Flour to Albi, outsprinting Elia Viviani and Caleb Ewan.
He was also a remarkable support rider for sprinter Dylan Groenewegen, with Van Aert holding 500 watts for around five minutes during his lead-out effort on stage seven, which was eventually won by Groenewegen.
Then three stages later, he suffered a severe crash during an ITT. He was battling his compatriot Thomas De Gendt for the provisional stage lead before clipping a barrier in the final few kilometres, leading to a heavy cut to his upper leg.
The injury could have ended Van Aert’s career, but after a long recovery process he returned to competition in December 2019, racing cyclocross in Loenhout and finishing fifth in his first race back. The 2019/2020 cyclocross season was an opportunity for Van Aert to return to fitness ready for a new Classics campaign, while also returning to his best on the CX circuit.