With the new cyclocross season looming, one of the discipline's champions, Belgian master Sven Nys, has made it clear he's up for any challenge this winter as the young guns of the sport look to dethrone the man many fans consider the king of 'cross.
"My duels against [Zdenek] Stybar and [Niels] Albert are my new challenge," Nys said in a press statement ahead of the season start. "In previous years it was big news when I didn't win; now it's big news when I can beat those two. My ambition to be the best is still there."
Over the last two seasons the aforementioned pair of 24-year-olds has encroached on the territory hitherto occupied by Nys as the dominant force in 'cross; Albert won the 2009 world championship and earlier this year took second overall in both the World Cup and Superprestige series.
Rising Czech star Stybar won the World Cup series and world championship race on home turf in Tábor earlier this year and there's every chance he'll continue on his winning ways after some strong performances on the road at the Tour of Slovakia last month that included a win in the prologue.
But Nys is a seasoned campaigner and knows that aside from these two, the ranks of the young contenders is not deep; therefore he's not ruling himself out as a winner in 2010/11 - far from it, in fact. He's backing himself for both the World Cup and Superprestige series.
"I can't see any new names at the same level," he said. "Well, I know that Tom Meeusen will be getting closer to the top level; and I also know that [Kevin] Pauwels, [Klaas] Vantornout, [Sven] Vanthourenhout and [Bart] Wellens will win the occasional race, but they won't dominate a whole season," said Nys.
"Trying to win each classification suits my ambition, continued the 34-year-old. "I know better than anyone else that there are two guys that are very hard to beat if they are going well [Stybar and Albert]. But last year, I was still up alongside those two and I would like to keep it that way.
"I expect a heavy season - summer is over and it has been raining a lot, which is different to last year. We almost got an entire season of fast cyclocross last year; it's different now and that is not to my disadvantage," he added.