IOWA CITY — Before winning the 10th stage of the Tour de France on Monday, cycling phenom Wout van Aert was a regular participant in the World Cup of Cyclocross hosted at the annual Jingle Cross Festival in Iowa City, including winning the first of those races here in 2016.
“To just get invited to the tour is a big deal; even that is a huge honor,” said Jason McCartney, a retired professional cyclist who lives in Coralville and supports the Jingle Cross event. “It’s just amazing for him.”
This year’s Jingle Cross is scheduled for Sept. 13-15 at the Johnson County Fairgrounds, with the men’s and women’s World Cup races Sept. 14.
The young Belgian with a resume of cyclocross wins across the globe turned heads Monday after out-sprinting some of the top distance cyclists in his first crack at the premiere cycling event of the year.
The 24-year-old overcame what was described as a brutal crosswind during the 218 kilometer, or roughly 135 mile, ride from Saint Flour to Albi, France. Even van Aert seemed surprised by his quick success.
“I can’t believe I’ve beaten the fast guys in the sprint,” van Aert, who is on the Jumbo-Visma team, was quoted Tuesday as saying in Cycling Weekly. “I’m sorry, I can’t believe that I’ve won a stage of the Tour de France.”
McCartney said cyclocross features 60- to 90-minutes races, whereas stages of the Tour de France can be four to six hours or more. It was not clear how the transition would go, he said.
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Back in Iowa City, McCartney has been among those cheering on van Aert, who has endeared himself to the community during his visits. Not only had he put on memorable performances, but attended an Iowa Hawkeye football game and celebrated his birthday while in town.
In September 2016, van Aert wowed local spectators after rallying from the middle of the pack to a dominant first place finish on the challenging course highlighted by a hill dubbed Mount Krumpit. In 2017, he placed 14th and second in 2018, according to race organizers.
“He is a really nice guy,” McCartney said. “For him to win this stage, it is going to give him confidence to elevate his career.”
Jingle Cross organizers are hopeful van Aert makes it in September, but that is not yet confirmed.
In an interview with NBC Sports earlier this month, van Aert spoke warmly about the “committed fans,” “well organized” races and “nice tracks,” although smaller crowds are in Iowa and Wisconsin compared with Europe. He added, “I hope to be there for more in the future, actually.”
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