Toon used his mental strength to win his first National title on a heavy, muddy course.
An emotional Toon Aerts could not hold back the tears in his post-race interview after winning the Belgian National Cyclocross Championships, beating world champion Wout van Aert who was seeking his fourth consecutive title.
“I didn’t expect this. I am extremely happy winning this title – my very first Belgian elite title. It was a very tough race, and the conditions were exactly how I like them,” said an emotional Aerts. “In the beginning I kind of lost hope, it was not working on the technical sections, but then I found back my focus. I thought back to the path that brought me here, and everything I learned during the mental training last summer. I knew I had to keep the focus on myself, racing technically, and not making mistakes. And that’s how I came back to Wout.”
Van Aert had built a decent lead by the halfway point of the race and looked poised to win his fourth successive title. However, in the chase behind, Aerts began to claw his way back, keeping his composure on the muddy, extremely slick course while the world champion made a few bobbles through the off-camber corners. Aerts finally made contact to van Aert in the closing laps and immediately passed and distanced his Belgian rival.
When I raced away, it was not an attack, I just did my own thing: put forth my strength and went where I could go, and before I knew it, I had a gap on Wout.
Aerts found renewed strength in the last laps as van Aert faded, and by the final lap could begin to enjoy the moment. When he crossed the line, he had a full-minute in hand, the title was his, and the realization of what he had just done engulfed him.
“People said I shouldn’t focus on the series and overalls, because championships are more important, but you can do both,” added Aerts through tears. “The true ‘crosser has to be there every weekend, and I proved that today. I am proud to have had such a great season. I am super happy.”
Successful national championships for Telenet Fidea Lions
While Toon Aerts was the definite highlight and fittingly stole the show for the Telenet Fidea Lions, honorable mentions go to Corne van Kessel, second, and Lars van der Haar, third, in the elite men’s race in the Netherlands.
In the U23 races, Marthe Truyen (Belgium) and Fleur Nagengast (Netherlands) both netted silver medals, rounding out a successful championships weekend for the team.