Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert will make his return to cyclo-cross at round 2 of the X2O Badkamers Trofee – formerly the DVV Trofee – in Kortrijk, Belgium, on Saturday, but says that no one should be expecting too much, too early, from him as he comes off a break following the 2020 road season.
Van Aert's victories on the road this season included Milan-San Remo, Strade Bianche and two stages at the Tour de France, as well as second place at the Tour of Flanders and silver medals at the World Championships in both the road race and the time trial.
His second place behind perennial rival Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) at the Tour of Flanders was the last race on the road for Van Aert this season, and, after a short break, the 26-year-old Belgian has slowly been rebuilding his fitness with a training camp in Spain, and has only been back on his cyclo-cross bike in the past couple of weeks.
"After my season on the road, it's not unusual that a lot is expected of me," Van Aert said in a press release from sports marketing company Golazo, according to Het Nieuwsblad on Wednesday. "But whoever thinks that I can just continue in cyclo-cross where I left off on the road is looking at things way too simplistically.
"It would also be very dangerous for me to start thinking like that," he continued. "It's not realistic to expect me to be at my best straight away. I've been riding long enough to know the level [at cyclo-cross] is very high. Don't forget that I'll be riding against some of the best riders in the world on Saturday.
"Those guys have been working towards this all summer, while my preparation has been much shorter," said Van Aert. "I hope that I'll be able to rely on some of my experience and condition, but don't expect me to be setting the pace."
The resumption of the eagerly anticipated cyclo-cross rivalry between three-time cyclo-cross world champion Van Aert and three-time champion Van der Poel isn't set to happen until round 4 of the X2O Badkamers Trofee in Herentals on December 23.
"At the moment, I'm certainly not in top form," Van Aert reiterated. "I mainly hope to use the first block of 'crosses in Kortrijk, Tabor [round 1 of the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup] and Boom [round 3 of the Telenet Superprestige series] to improve."
That implies that he expects to be approaching something like top form for his first race against Van der Poel in Herentals, with Van Aert's 'cross season set to culminate with the World Championships in Ostend at the end of January, where he'll again be up against defending champion Van der Poel.
"As a result of things now going so well on the road, my view of cyclo-cross has changed a bit," Van Aert admitted, without elaborating any further. "But I'll still be racing to win; I'm not going to be there just to ride around. I want to compete for the prizes, and winning races is of course part of that."
Today's best Black Friday deals
Today's cycling-related highlights from the Black Friday sales. For even more, view our guide to the best Black Friday bike deals where you'll find on all things cycling, including bikes, helmets, clothing and more.
Today's best deals: USA
Competitive Cyclist: 29% off Shimano S-Phyre thermal gloves
Chain Reaction Cycles: LifeLine 18-piece tool kit
$73.99| $49.99 | 32% off
Today's best deals: UK
Argos: GoPro Hero7 White for £99.99
ProBikeKit: 300-lumen rear Lezyne light for under £35.00
Chain Reaction Cycles: 50% off Mobi V-15 bike pressure washer | £49.99