Wout van Aert is 23 years old and already a cyclocross legend. He has won three elite world championships, one before technically eligible to race as an elite.*
Recently, van Aert has made it known that his future cycling challenges lay outside the muddy fields of Belgium. He insists he’s not abandoning cyclocross completely (oh we’ve heard that one before), but wants to test himself by racing on the road. And who can blame him? After three world championships at the top level (and one as a U23) and three Belgian National Championship wins (not to mention a U23 European Championship jersey), there isn’t much left for him to accomplish. (He’s also won the World Cup series twice, the BPost (DVV) Troffee three times and the Superprestige series once).
Wout currently races for Veranda’s Willems–Crelan (Sniper Cycling), a Belgian UCI Professional Continental team formed in 2013. With his desire to race in the classics at the top level, van Aert has been rumored to be moving to a World Tour team for the 2020 season. Rumors started to circulate during cyclocross season after Instagram photos showed Wout sharing training rides with members of the Belgian Lotto Soudal (red Lotto) squad.
Months later, the rumors began to solidify into fact after July 21 news reports had van Aert joining the new Dutch Jumbo team, which would be the successor to the current LottoNL-Jumbo (yellow Lotto) squad. The deal looked to be all but done and would be signed following a medical examination.
The Jumbo contract was reported to run from January 2020 to the end of 2022. Wout indicated that he would not be jumping straight to road but still intended to race a cyclocross program similar his 2017-2018 campaign in 2018-2019.
Everything looked to be clear as day as far as Wout’s future was concerned. But this is a cyclocross story and that outlook soon became clear as mud. On August 1, Belgian media outlets reported that Aqua Blue Sport was purchasing Sniper Cycling, which was losing title sponsor Veranda’s Willems at the end of the season. They also announced that van Aert would be on their roster for the 2019 season. This, reportedly, was news to Wout.
Nieuwsblad.be reported that an Aqua Blue Sport press release touted the purchase of Sniper Cycling as a way to increase reach for the Aqua Blue Sport online cycling marketplace and to compete in cyclocross. After that announcement, and Wout’s less than positive reaction, Nick Nuyens, general manager of the Veranda’s Willems-Crelan team, distanced himself from the news. He told the media that there had been talks but that it was too early for definitive news. All mentions of the merger from Aqua Blue’s press release to Sniper Cycling’s response have been removed from social media and team websites. In its final (now lost to the ether of the Internet) statement, Sniper said that “out of respect for all parties involved, we will currently refrain from further comments.” Since then, there have been no further comments.
So where does that leave us? The Tour of Denmark, that’s where. And a great showing by the Veranda’s Willems-Crelan squad, including a stage one win and leader’s jersey for van Aert, followed by a stage 2 win by Tim Merlier with Wout maintaining a six second GC lead over former Danish national road champ Alexander Kamp.
In the meantime, we will hear a lot of speculation on if Aqua Blue jumping the gun on their merger announcement killed the deal. If Wout will race for a new Jumbo squad in 2020 regardless of any merger, or if something entirely different will raise from the ashes.
Like cyclocross, the answers are coming.
Wout van Aert team history:
2017- 2019 Veranda’s Willems-Crelan
2014 Vastgoedservice-Golden Palace
* Wout, along with Lars van der Haar, Mathieu van der Poel, Sanne Cant and several other young guns petitioned the UCI for eligibility in elite races despite their age.
Feature Photo: © 2017 Bruce Buckley