An emotional Niels Albert threatened to quit cyclo-cross for the road after a race incident at the Jaarmarktcross in Niel, Belgium. The cyclo-cross World Champion's comments came after he had been jeered by supporters of eventual race winner Sven Nys after he appeared to cut-off Nys on a climb, three laps from the finish.
"It is not fun anymore. I might be better on the road start," said Albert, according to HLN.be. "I don't understand the reaction of the audience, I just lost my balance. If I bothered Nys, it was certainly not intentional, but the public reacted immediately. Now I understand how Lars Boom felt when he was booed. Maybe, like Boom, I would be better to further develop my career on the road instead of cyclo-cross."
Albert's manager Christophe Roodhooft was quick to temper his client's comments and denied that he will trade his knobbly tyres for slicks any time soon. Roodhooft attributed 23-year-old Albert's post-race reaction down to his relative inexperience.
"He's not going to race on the road yet," Roodhooft told Sporza. "Of course Niels has racing skills, but he needs to get used to the environment. Last year, it was a case of 'little' Albert against the 'big' Nys.
"Nys has built a huge number of fans over many years and Niels will have to live with them. But I hope that Nys' supporters will not use their energy to boo other riders in the future."
Bart Wellens, who himself has endured the wrath of Nys' fans throughout his career, echoed Roodhooft's comments about Albert's experience of the partisan crowds that flock to the Belgian cyclo-cross scene.
"It was just bad luck for that so many of Nys' fans were at that location. The reality is that Nys still has more fans than Albert.
"I have often said to Niels, 'do not respond and just continue riding'. It can only be put down to his young age and his temperament. At this stage, he can't afford to move to the road."
Nys, for his part, refused to weigh into the debate. The Belgian cyclo-cross champion told HLN.be that he was satisfied Albert had not intentionally cut him off.
"I do not think Albert deliberately closed the door on me," said Nys. "Anyway I do not want argue about this, I took a very narrow victory and I can only be happy."
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