Former world cyclo-cross champion Sven Nys was interviewed on the Belgian television show Van Gils and Guests on Tuesday, and during the interview he analysed the current state of the sport and the sometimes heated rivalry between Dutch champion Mathieu van der Poel and world champion Wout Van Aert. While Van Aert has had great victories, Nys thinks Van der Poel is coming into his own.
"As a junior, he always scored slightly better than Van Aert. That is going to begin to show now," Nys said. "Mathieu has something very special, like a young [Peter] Sagan. They don't make them every year."
Van Aert began the season strongly, with back-to-back World Cup victories in the US, but when the racing began in Europe, Van der Poel came out swinging with wins in Valkenburg and then Zeven after the canceled Koksijde round.
"There are routes where Van Aert can beat Van der Poel at his peak. Cyclo-cross does not live on one champion who always has a polar opposite. Poulidor is the best example. He was the eternal second place, but he was the most popular of his time. I'm not saying that Van Aert is that way. They are just two very great champions and there will be a lot of beautiful things to see from them."
However, Nys worries that two riders dominating the sport in such a way as these two riders, both of whom are still under 23 years of age. It took Nys 20 years to build his supporter base, and he fears that it will harm the sport if they move across to more lucrative road racing.
"Van Aert and Van der Poel now dominate the races, but I think the fact that they have already announced that they will race 'cross for two years and then most likely leave is also a lot of the problem. That creates a negative atmosphere within 'cross and that's a pity."
"The level is incredibly high. Cyclo-cross has always lived by duels," Nys said. "Van der Poel and Van Aert both have their qualities and I think there are still beautiful duels to come. But we must also give them some time to get more supporters."