After winning the last cyclo-cross race of the 2013-2014 season in Oostmalle a somewhat relieved Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) talked freely about the problems he has had over the last few months.
Arguably one of the world's best cyclo-cross riders, Albert had a troubled season which lacked a big win at the championships and an overall win in one of the three major cyclo-cross series.
Last weekend he entered the final round of the Superprestige series in Middelkerke with a four-point lead on Sven Nys but he failed to stay close enough to the 37 year-old Belgian champion and lost out on the overall win. His win in the final round of the Bpost Bank Trophy in Oostmalle was somewhat of a consolation.
"I set my sights on winning the Superprestige in Middelkerke. When that didn't happen I received a mental blow. My approach to this race was to consider it as the first race of the 2014-2015 season. The result didn't matter, fifth place was good enough but I wanted to be in the mix and not struggle like in many previous races," Albert said.
His arch rival Sven Nys, blamed Albert for not racing in Lebbeke on Saturday, conserving energy for the more important race in Oostmalle on Sunday.
"I slept badly for two nights in a row, and had a fever. It's a pity for the organizers of Lebbeke that I had to pass on that one but it makes this win more special. Today I was certainly not physically the best of the pack but a race can also be won by what’s in your head. I can always perform better on the course of Oostmalle. This course has no secrets for me; I can locate every root on it."
"There's a lot of sand and you have to ride alone here; that's when I excel. I also took a lot of risks in the sandy corners and that increased the cornering speed. Wednesday I trained on the course and crashed a couple of times but if you don't crash you can't improve. It's true that I let go of my emotions sometimes but that's what my fans like about me, being the emotional rider."
In the press tent of Oostmalle the conversation with Niels Albert and the gathered press continued. When asked about the intermediate sprint where Nys grabbed bonus seconds away from Albert, the latter didn't hide his annoyance about that system. He also disliked the position of the barriers on the course, favouring riders like Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea) who can jump them. "I've got my opinion about the intermediate sprint, just like I have my opinion about the barriers here too."
The 28 year-old Belgian rider talked about the speculation that were going on in his home town Tremelo, Baal. "People say that I would be in a divorce and other stuff. I can say that we're still a couple and that my wife isn't pregnant," Albert said.
Recent speculation wasn’t the reason for Albert and his somewhat lacklustre season. That reason might have been the presence of Paul Ponnet.
Albert’s BKCP-Powerplus team hired the new trainer which brought a lot of improvement to teammate Philipp Walsleben but not for Albert.
"We tried our best and we'll learn from our mistakes. It can't get any worse. We're not in an argument, there are no reproaches. It's not easy for him too. He will have been in a spot as much as I was. I've had sleepless nights, trying to figure out what was going wrong. When you make mistakes you start to doubt everything."
"There's a lot of pressure on my shoulders. While it's somewhat easy to get to the top but it's much harder to repeat performances and stay at the top.”