The cyclo-cross season is getting into full swing with the first race in the Belgian Superprestige series. The 31st edition of the series gets underway in Ruddervoorde on Sunday, and the top favourites took part in a non-UCI classified event in Laarne today as a tune up. There, they found deep puddles of muck and mud in what veteran Bart Wellens called "old school".
While world 'cross champion Niels Albert may have been at the top of the results sheet in Laarne, the Superprestige races have historically been the domain of his compatriot and rival Sven Nys.
Nys is the most successful rider in the series, which began in 1982. He has amassed 55 race wins and 11 overall titles in his years of racing at the elite level. Now in his 15th year, he is still hungry for victory and committed to continuing through the end of the 2014 'cross season.
Although he's seen every manner of course in his career and knows the fields of mud and dunes of sand in Belgium by heart, Nys still never tires of racing 'cross.
"It's always different," Nys said on the Superprestige series website. "First, the opponents. In the beginning, I was competing against riders who were older than me. Then came a time when I was as old as my opponents. Now, I am about the oldest and I have to hold off the youngsters. I'm already on my third generation of cycling."
"The evolution of the courses also helps to allay the boredom. In the beginning of my career, cyclo-cross was all mud, running and jumping barriers. Then came a period where 'cross was like Formula 1, nothing but parks with little uphill. In the meanwhile, we have found the ideal mix between fast and heavy 'crosses. Not every season of the last fourteen was the same."
Nys has confirmed that he will absolutely finish his career in March of 2014, going another 18 months through the end of his contract with Landbouwkrediet-Euphony until the last.
Last season, Nys scored only one Superprestige victory, that in the Dutch round in Gieten, but was otherwise high and dry in the unusually mud-free Belgian 'cross season.
"I only hope that we quickly get real 'cross conditions again and that we aren't without rain until mid-October like last year, which certainly cost me a number of victories."
It looks as if Nys will get his wish.
Ruddervoorde (Bel), October 7, 2012
Zonhoven (Bel), November 4, 2012
Hamme-Zogge (Bel), November 11, 2012
Asper-Gavere (Bel), November 18, 2012
Gieten (Ned), November 25, 2012
Diegem (Bel), December 30, 2012
Hoogstraten (Bel), February 10, 2013
Middelkerke (Bel), February 16, 2013