Defending world champion Sven Nys lost his rainbow jersey on Sunday afternoon at the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships in Hoogerheide, Netherlands, but he lost it in style. In a great race-long duel with Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic), Nys seemed to have the upper hand for most of the race, but then made too many mistakes in the final laps. The 37-year-old Belgian rider said afterwards he didn't feel like a loser but like a winner.
"We were equally strong, both on a really high level. We were both on our limit. I don't think I'm a loser today. I'm also a winner and that's what I take along for the remainder of the season," Nys said. "I think it was possible [to beat him in the last lap]. I don't think he still had a good sprint left in his legs. I accelerated in the closing laps and he had trouble following. I made small mistake after the tree. I waited half a lap and recovered a bit. It was not so easy to have a gap on Stybar."
When asked what made the difference Nys came up with several reasons. "Mentally he's a little bit more fresh because he doesn't race the whole season. I'm happy with my second place. It wasn't easy to defend my jersey. I'm nearly 38, I never forget that. There's also the pressure. I was the guy of which everybody said would win the race. It's mentally hard.
"My shape was on the highest level but [Stybar is] a big champion who found a course that suits him really well. If it would've rained all week long like in many European countries then maybe it would have been easier to have a gap on him. He had a really good day and even then I had a chance to win."
Nys wasn't surprised it came down to a duel between him and Stybar. The only riders who followed early on were also the riders who Nys expected to perform well. He didn't expect any of his compatriots to battle for the victory and that turned out to be correct. The short appearance from Stybar in the cyclo-cross scene this season wasn't badly received by Nys.
"Definitely not. If I won today it would be better if it was against a big champion. For me it's better to have a race like this. He's not only a road racer. For me it was better that Stybar was here. If he chooses cyclo-cross then it would be harder to win for him. That's what you saw in Koksijde  when he did forty races. That's something he's chosen. I imagine he also wants to win a big Classic. If he wins a Classic I'll say ‘damn' and understand why I lost at the world championships in Hoogerheide."
"He's a triple 'cross world champion. He's not stealing the rainbow jersey here. Everybody has the right to schedule their own season. He does it this way, we do it through the 'cross series."
Nys ended his part of the post-race press conference with a surprising request to explain to the world that this victory from classy Stybar was a proof that the level in cyclo-cross is high.