Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-SunGard) was happy to put an indifferent spell at Rabobank behind him with a bold victory at Dwars Door Vlaanderen. The Belgian held off a fast-closing chase group and outsprinted Geraint Thomas (Sky) to take the win in Waregem.
After crossing the line, Nuyens explained that he has trained himself to become less sensitive to the criticism that he had faced in recent years and had consequently enjoyed a more relaxed build-up to the Classics.
"This year I haven't really been reading the papers or watching too much television," Nuyens said. "If I don't win, it's not because I'm a bad rider. You can't change people's opinions. Perhaps I used to try to do that, but like I said, I don't read the papers anymore. I just concentrate on racing and my work."
Nuyens' final season at Rabobank was hampered by crashes and illness, but this time around he has reaped the benefits of a winter free of health problems.
"I really had great condition last year, but I had three crashes and two weeks of antibiotics," he said. "Some people said they were just excuses but that wasn't true. Then afterwards, I didn't feel great in the team. It's a good team, but it wasn't working for me."
Nuyens opted to leave Rabobank at the end of last season and was signed to head up Saxo Bank-SunGard's Classics team after the defection of a number of its star names to Leopard Trek.
"This year is another year, and I felt good straight away," he said. "They [Saxo Bank] have placed a lot of confidence in me and allowed me to prepare calmly for the Classics. Even after Milan-San Remo [where he finished 70th - ed.], they said 'don't worry, the season starts in Waregem.'"
Since joining Saxo Bank, Nuyens has made two small but not insignificant tweaks to his traditional Classics build-up. Instead of training on home roads in harsh conditions, he spent much of the winter preparing in warmer climes, and he has also made a slight adjustment to his riding position.
"I've trained a lot abroad this year, in Spain, looking for some sun, and I've also changed my position on the bike a little bit," he said. "As well as those two little things, I've also just had more luck so far this year. I haven't been ill and that changes a lot. When you're sick, it's hard to perform."
A daring raid
Nuyens made his first move during Dwars Door Vlaanderen on the climb of the Oude Kwaremont, forcing the pace on the way up the iconic climb. Although he was soon reeled back in, it was clear that the Belgian was in fine form, and he got more purchase on his second acceleration, 20km from the line.
Nuyens went clear with Geraint Thomas (Sky), and the pair then caught and collaborated with early escapee Frederic Amorison (Landbouwkrediet). While their advantage never stretched beyond 25 seconds, Nuyens sensed that the pursuit behind was lacking in cohesion.
"At one stage a motorbike rider told us we had 22 seconds," he said. "Then I saw that it wasn't 22 seconds anymore because Garmin had started pulling. At that point I thought it was going to be difficult. But then after the Nokereberg I saw a rider try by himself, so that was a good sign. That meant that there was less organisation behind and that gave us more of a chance."
Nuyens also paid tribute to the efforts of the plucky Amorison, who was only dropped in the final kilometre.
"When I got across first, I didn't talk to him much as he'd already spent all day off the front in the break, but afterwards I think he began to believe too," Nuyens said. "He's fast at the finish, so why not. He was really very strong today."
In the end, however, it was only Thomas who could stay with Nuyens, and the pair had just enough in hand to stay clear of the speeding peloton. In the frantic closing metres, the Belgian came around Thomas to take a fine win, and he highlighted that he will be a force to be reckoned with this spring.
"The physical side was already there last year and it's still there now," he said, smiling.