Wout van Aert marked his season debut in cyclocross with a commanding victory in the challenging Exact Cross Essen, where he launched a decisive attack mid-race. Van Aert, set to race next on 22 December, finished ahead of Jens Adams and Thijs Aerts.
The race officially marked Van Aert’s return to cyclocross at 3:00 PM, with him starting in the front row. However, Yorben Lauryssen initially took the lead, soon overtaken by Zdenek Stybar, who had decided to race in Essen at the last minute. Stybar’s early surge was short-lived as he quickly fell back in the pack.
Van Aert moved to the front after four minutes but was not yet in peak form, joining a group including Lander Loockx, Jens Adams, Tom Meeusen, and Lauryssen. An initial breakaway by Van Aert around the 11-minute mark was countered by Loockx, Adams, and Thijs Aerts.
During the first half of the race, Van Aert struggled to shake off Aerts and Adams. However, midway through, he managed to break away from Loockx and create a significant gap from his chasers. This move proved decisive as Van Aert gradually extended his lead to over 30 seconds.
As the race progressed, Van Aert comfortably navigated the deep, wet mud, setting a steady pace. Behind him, Adams managed to pull away from Aerts, securing second place. This left the podium positions largely uncontested due to the absence of many top riders at the World Cup in Val di Sole or training camps in Spain.
Entering the final two laps with a minute’s lead, Van Aert further increased his advantage, allowing him to plan his victory celebration well in advance. He eventually crossed the finish line with a simple hand raise, marking his first win since 28 January, when he triumphed at the Flandriencross Hamme a week before the World Championships.
Van Aert’s next race will be at the Zilvermeercross Mol on 22 December, where he’ll face World Champion Mathieu van der Poel. Following this, he’ll have a busy Christmas period racing for Jumbo-Visma, which will rebrand as Visma | Lease a Bike from 2024.
2023 Exact Cross Essen Men result
Results powered by FirstCycling.com
Main photo credit: Cor Vos