Toon Aerts made the podium for a third straight year with a late surge in Meulebeke
With a spirited late effort, Baloise Trek’s Toon Aerts distanced his challengers to take second place at the Belgian National Championships in Meulebeke on Sunday. He has now stood on the national championship podium three straight years after taking third place in 2020 and winning in 2019.
Aerts finished just 20 seconds behind Wout van Aert, who won the event for the fourth time in his career.
Van Aert dictated the race early, powering away from 2020 Belgian champion Laurens Sweeck on Lap 3 of 9 to take a lead that he would never relinquish. But though Van Aert made the decisive move early in the race, Aerts and company remained within striking distance throughout.
Aerts powered the chase group. On Lap 4, he dropped Sweeck and forced the defending champ to chase back on, then left him for good on Lap 6. With three laps to go, Van Aert held a 25-second lead. Aerts nibbled away at that gap over the final two laps as he pulled away Michael Vanthourenhout, who finished 21 seconds behind Aerts for third.
Aerts’ result was particularly impressive coming off a jam-packed period of holiday cyclocross racing. In his last two races — a X2O Badkamers Trofee race on Jan. 1, and a World Cup race on Jan. 3 — he finished sixth and fifth, respectively.
“I was very happy with my second place, especially since the weeks around Christmas were not that good,” Aerts said after the race. “The week before the race I did some good trainings, but also had a lot of rest, and that brought my good shape back for the championships.”
The racing calendar will be much lighter through the end of the season. Ahead of the World Championships in Oostende on Jan. 31, Aerts will likely compete in a X2O Badkamers Trofee race in Hamme on Jan. 23, and a World Cup race in Overijse on Jan. 24. If Sunday is an indication, a little more downtime could do him a lot of good.
“My feeling on the track was very good,” Aerts said. “So I’m keeping positive about the World Championships in Oostende at the end of the month.”