For the 2019/20 European season, we chose five riders to watch. We chose each rider for various reasons, from expected improvement to a return from injury. Almost everyone of the riders lived up to our expectations and they all played a hand in some of the races and moments that defined the season.
Here’s a breakdown of our five riders to watch:
Heading into this season, Aerts was the man to watch. After a horrific crash in the Tour de France, Wout van Aert was potentially out for the season. Mathieu van der Poel’s desire to dominate every discipline of cycling (who wouldn’t love to see him crush a track or BMX race), his season wasn’t scheduled to start until November.
Last season, Aerts won the World Cup overall, the Belgian National Championships and finished second overall in both the Superprestige and DVV Trofee. He also finished on the podium in 31 races. This left Toon Aerts as the man to beat.
After finishing second in the first three rounds of the World Cup, it became increasingly clear that Aerts rise to becoming one of the top crossers in the World had begun to hit a plateau. Aerts first win was at the Superprestige round in Boom, but virtually all of the favorites were saving their legs for the following days World Cup. He took two more wins in mid-December, but once again faced a lower level of competition – most notably no van der Poel – and just didn’t seem to have the form he had last season. He only picked up one more win, in a three up sprint in Leuven in February.
With that said, his consistency at the World Cups once again netted him the overall. The fact that he broke four ribs in Namur, then raced in Zolder, shows he’s incredibly tough. He finished on the podium 22 times, but never seemed like the man to beat.
Vanthourenhout was a rider to watch because of his consistency and his progress over the past few seasons. Last season he was a constant podium threat and we wanted to see if he could turn that into consistent podium finishes and wins.
Coming into this season, he had only three wins as an elite rider, with the last coming in 2016. He won two races that season and equaled that total this year. This year he had 10 podium appearances, which was a slight step back from the 13 he had last year. This was more or less a similar season to last year.
Obviously the elephant in the room is Mathieu van der Poel. His dominance often leaves riders like Vanthourenhout battling for second. In some ways, that makes a top four, or five, finish impressive. Vanthournehout finished in the top five 21 times and will once again be a consistent podium threat next season.
Orts gained notoriety last season as he mixed it up in the lead group at the World Championships. He has quickly become Spain’s best rider, but we wanted to see how he would do outside of the country this season. Orts raced the EKZ CrossTour, DVV Trofee and World Cup series this season. He also participated in Spain’s national series, but skipped a few rounds.
As we mentioned, Orts is the best rider in Spain and he proved that in spades. In addition to retaining his National Championship title, Orts won all but one race on home soil. He finished as the runner up in Switzerland’s EKZ CrossTour, despite not winning a single round. However, Orts was unable to truly crack the top-ten when it came to Europe’s top races.
He finished seventh at Kasteelcross Zonnebeke and tenth at the final race of the season in Oostmalle. Otherwise he really struggled to finish inside the top-twenty. It’s not to say that Orts had a bad season, he just did not progress as much as we expected. With another solid year of top notch racing under his belt, next year could see him inside the top ten.
Coming into this season, we had Iserbyt on par with Toon Aerts in terms of riders to fill the void left by Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. Even as a U23 rider, Iserbyt could be found in the lead group of the Elite Men’s field. He was third at the 2019 Elite Belgian National Championships and rarely finished outside of the top-five in other Elite races.
While we expected Iserbyt to be a podium contender, he stormed out of the gate, winning the first two rounds of the World Cup. Once he returned to Europe, the domination continued. After finishing second at Berencross Meulebeke, he rattled off five straight victories, including the third round of the World Cup.
With the return of van der Poel, Iserbyt often found himself battling for second. He hit a rough patch, finishing 14th at the fourth round of the World Cup in Koksijde, but bounced back with a pair of podium finishes. A disastrous race in Namur, which saw him DNF combined with a 13th place a few days later in Namur ended his hopes of the World Cup overall.
Iserbyt never really found that early season form, as he only had three wins in the last three months of racing. He was a regular podium contender, but didn’t seem to have that early season spark. However, he did win the DVV Trofee overall and finished second overall in the World Cup and Superprestige.
Mathieu van der Poel / Wout van Aert
While they both had different reasons for making the list of Riders to Watch, both Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert exceeded our expectations.
Van der Poel returned to racing the first weekend in November at the Superprestige round in Ruddervoorde after a lengthy road and mountain bike season. He quickly erased our memories of blowing up at the road World Championships by dominating the field in Ruddervoorde. Unlike previous years, van der Poel spent the first two weeks getting his cross legs underneath him by sitting in the lead group. However, by December, it was clear that van der Poel hadn’t lost a step. He won all but one race this season and only seemed under pressure at the Namur round of the World Cup. The most impressive stat comes from the DVV Trofee. Despite missing the first two rounds of the series – thus giving everyone a 10 minute head start – he finished third overall. He also ended his season with a third Elite World Championship title.
Wout van Aert made our riders to watch list after his horrific crash in the Tour de France. We even questioned if he would race cross at all. He returned to action during the tail end of December with a fifth place at Loenhout. Van Aert was clearly lacking that top end which often left him dangling off the lead group. With that said, he managed a pair of podium spots, including winning his final race of the season in Lille. To be honest, we wrote van Aert off as a podium contender at Worlds, but he quickly proved us wrong. The three time World Champion was a consistent threat and finished just off the podium in fourth.