Sven Nys, never a notable sprinter, claimed his seventh victory in the cyclo-cross classic of Gavere in a two-up battle against Kevin Pauwels, and the Belgian champion explained afterwards how he pulled off that surprising performance.
Normally, Nys tries to head to the finish solo, and if he fails to shake off his opponents during a race he often falls short in the sprint. On Sunday afternoon Nys was forced to take on Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea), who turned out to be the only rider capable of staying with him on the tough course around the Grenier castle. Pauwels is considered to be a fast man at the finish line but the odds turned against him in Gavere.
"It helped me to arrive at the finish with him alone because it's in his advantage to arrive at the finish with a larger group. Quite often when two dogs are fighting for a bone Kevin Pauwels carries it away. He's becomes more dangerous in such a situation. Normally Kevin is faster but with the sprint coming right after the tough climb and after such a hard race things are different. He had to do some pulls as well to stay in the lead and that brings down his punch in the sprint," Nys said.
Nys led Pauwels before the last corner and immediately started his sprint when coming out of it. Somehow Pauwels was surprised by Nys' early start of the sprint and didn't even get time to switch hands off the top bars. Nevertheless he tried to get past Nys on the left, but failed to sneak past the Belgian champion before the finish line. Nys was delighted by his performance in the sprint.
"After the final corner I went full gas and checked under my arms to see at which side he was coming. I think I rode a regular sprint. If he was faster then there was space enough to get past me. If he would've started his sprint more explosive he could've gone past me. I rode the sprint everybody would ride when arriving at the finish with two riders," Nys said.
His opponent Pauwels agreed that Nys didn't close the door for him. "He edged to the side but left enough space for me to pass," Pauwels said.
Nys explained to the attending press how he managed to win despite his supposedly weak sprinting abilities. "My training buddy Wim Van Huffel is 44 but despite his age he still sprints away from me without much effort. He told me I sprinted like a novice, who's looking back 37 times. Hopefully after today he'll tell me that I sprinted like it should be done. He tells me to throw the chain on the biggest gear and go flat out," Nys said while adding gestures to his explanation.
"Wim taught me to check under my arms to see which side the other rider is coming and pretend that I was edging to his side. That mentally creates a hesitation with the rider behind you and that's what makes it possible to win a sprint. He's been telling me this for ten years now and every time I'm cursing myself for not doing it. Sometimes it succeeded though like in Kalmthout when I dropped Niels Albert or Lars Boom in Milano a few years ago. Once in a while it works but not every time," Nys said.