The Generation Next series is a review of the next big things in cycling. These are the heirs apparent to the throne of the current kings of cycling. Through these articles we will see some on the cusp of greatness, some up and comers and finally some who will be stars in a very specific role. Look for the members of Generation Next to dominate pro cycling for years to come.
- Must be 25 or Younger at the start of the 2020 season.
- Only one from each world nation.
- Must have at least one big name race win to their name.
Rise of a new Hybrid
Where do we even begin with Wout Van Aert, he has decided the breakout in 2020, however this is not a surprise to anyone. He is a champion, without a shadow of a doubt and where he goes is as far as his imagination will take him.
Peter Sagan is the poster boy for Hybrid riders, an elite sprinter who can take on hills, classics and monuments with ruthless effectiveness. If ever there was ever a criticism for the man who could do it all, it was his inability to get over the big mountain passes without losing chunks of time. Sagan is the best example of a Sprinter who can climb, Wout Van Aert however is re-writing the hybrid moniker and is showing that he is a Climber who can Sprint.
Twice at the Tour de France on stages 5 and 7 Wout Van Aert took victories in bunch sprints, however if any readers will remember, he was brought to the Tour in the service of Primoz Roglic. He was not there to win stages; he was there to protect his leader in the mountains and still won two stages. This is extremely impressive, however what is more impressive, from a Tour standpoint is how he handled himself in the mountains.
His relentless pace at the front of the peloton helped Jumbo-Visma to crack all but their fiercest rivals, and on more than one occasion Van Aert was out riding pure climbers up mountains. He finished in 20th place overall, which is not that close to the leader, but what may be difficult to understand is that sprinters do not do that. If Sagan is the best hybrid sprinter to ever ride the tour, then surely, he is the benchmark. While he has his own accolades, he has never finished in the top 40 of the Tour. Van Aert is a new kind of hybrid and he has already how dangerous he can be his career trajectory will go wherever he wants to take it.
King of the Cyclocross
Wout Van Aert wins is a phrase that some people, especially in the incredibly competitive world of Cyclocross must be sick of hearing. Taking only his results in the World, European and National Championships since 2015 in 6 years of competition he has competed in 15 races, missing the Europeans in 2017, 2019 and 2020. In this time, he has never been outside the top five and this year was the first year he was outside the medals, but I think I know why, more on that later.
In his time in the spotlight of Cyclocross he has been World Champion 3 times, National Champion 3 times and has managed a total of 6 Gold medals, 5 Silver medals and 2 Bronze medals, that level of excellence is damning in its dominance. To really hammer this home, for three consecutive seasons he was World and European champion. Another thing to think about is those are only the wins from the major championships, he has won at least one race overall since he started as a professional in 2011.
The world is his to conquer
Wout Van Aert is an all-rounder, at this point that is becoming a fact and the easiest way to explain this is by analysing his results in the major cycling championships. He has competed in his home National Championships, posting his first top 10 in 2016 in the Road Race and following that up the next year with a 6th place in the Time Trial.
Like most of his Road cycling career however, his breakout came in the year 2018. He managed a third place overall in the European Championships Road Race, putting him on the podium for the first time. As per usual when he built on this with ruthless efficiency. In 2019 he took victory in the National Time Trial and 3rd overall in the Road Race showing his fellow countrymen that he meant business. In 2020, he retained that title and set his sights on a higher honour, falling only just short with 2 Silver medals in both the Time Trial and the Road Race at the World Championships. Wout Van Aert is showing the world he can do anything he puts his mind to.
Being from Belgium there is a certain expectation on all riders from this country and that expectation is that you can ride the Classics. Most of these races feature cobblestones and tough short climbs all over the course. He quickly showed this innate ability when he was set free into the major race calendar in 2018. This year coincided with his first major podium at Strade Bianche where he managed a 3rd place. The clearest sign of his intent to set the cycling world on fire.
During this breakout season he also managed top 10 results in Gent-Wevelgem another famous classic, and the Tour of Flanders which is one of the famed monuments. He followed up this debut with another 3rd place in Strade Bianche, an even better 2nd in the E3 Binckbank Classic and another top 10 in a monument, this time at Milan-San Remo. He pedigree was beginning to show in the difficult one-day races.
Then came 2020, and Van Aert was clearly tired only making the podium. Always a top competitor at Strade Bianche, he turned his strong form into a victory by taking his first Classic Victory as the season resumed. A week later, he took his first Monument victory by Milan-San Remo, within a week winning two the biggest races in the cycling calendar.
What is next for Wout Van Aert?
Wout Van Aert will not become a General Classification contender, he is too strong a rider and a sprinter for him to change to that focus. He will however win one of the Grand Tour points jersey, because his ability to sprint on all stages, including the false flats and the uphill sprints give him an edge over the competition. He needs a team to focus on his ambitions, had that been the case this year at the Tour de France, he would have won the Malliot Vert as he was the best Sprinter in the ranks of the peloton. Look for him to target more Monuments and Classics in 2021 while maintaining his interests in both Grand Tours and dominating the International Championships.