Sven Nys closed out his career in the Superprestige cyclo-cross series on Saturday, finishing fourth in the Nordzeecross in Middelkerke and second overall in the series. Nys passed on the torch to world champion Wout Van Aert, who completed the 'grand slam' of cyclo-cross by winning the World Championship, and the World Cup, Bpost Bank Trofee and Superprestige series - a feat that until today only Nys has accomplished (2004-2005).
Nys' run in the Superprestige is without equal: In his 18-year career, he won a total of 64 rounds and was 13 times the overall series winner. He also won 50 World Cups, 50 Bpost Bank/GvA Trofee rounds, was twice World Champion, seven-times World Cup overall winner, and for five straight seasons he won all three major cyclo-cross series.
For a few laps in Middelkerke, it appeared as if Nys might add one last overall Superprestige title to his palmares. He began the race seven points behind Van Aert in the standings - a nearly insurmountable margin - but when Van Aert suffered a mechanical on the second lap and was forced to run halfway around the course to the pits, the odds became much better for Nys. Van Aert, however, chased back from 30th position to catch and pass Nys on the final lap, denying him the podium and the series title.
Nys nonetheless was pleased with his performance, considering he wasn't feeling great on the start.
"I had to dig deep; this one took character," Nys said to Sporza afterward. "It is only beacuse it was the Superprestige that I could push this hard. I felt miserable, but I was able to participate for a long time. That exceeded expectations."
Nys was under no illusion that Van Aert would lose the series after the mishap. "Van Aert has the best legs. I was pretty sure he would return. He has already been head and shoulders above the rest the whole year."
It will be a long time before any rider will surpass Nys' record in the Superprestige - with just one overall win, even Van Aert has to keep going for 12 full years to match him. But Nys pointed to Van Aert's fortitude, having kept himself in the top of the field all year. "I know damn well how difficult it is to perform at a high level for a whole year, I couldn't do that at his age."
Nys will move on to coaching for Telenet-Fidea after hanging up his wheels this season, and will be on the sidelines to see who can go after his records.
"I'm proud of what I've accomplished. They can break my record. We'll see who is going to match it. Everything I lost, I lost fair. And everything that I've won, I won fairly."