Having dominated the cyclo-cross scene for 15 seasons, world champion Sven Nys (Crelan-KDL) proved the years have only brought out his best when he rode to a commanding victory in the GP Mario de Clerq on Sunday.
While most riders lose much-needed punch in the one hour cyclo-cross races as they age, 37-year-old Nys has shown no signs of slowing down, despite a persistent back injury.
During a stormy Sunday afternoon in Ronse, Nys needed only one attack to separate himself from his rivals. The storm winds and rain, combined with the demanding course up and around the Hotondberg, were all in his favour, said Nys.
"These are the circumstances I like though the climbs are a bit too steep to ride on them, that made for a lot of running," Nys said.
The world champion didn't start well but quickly moved up through the field to make it into the first selection. During the third lap Nys was spotted sliding off a hill next to his bike rather than the preferred position on top of it. "I made a mistake but recovered well. A little later I took the lead and felt I was the strongest man in the race."
During the fifth of seven laps the decisive moment was to come. While Nys rode in front, Martin Bina (Kwadro-Stannah) tumbled in third position, and Nys seized the moment and attacked, overpowering his younger rivals both in strength and technical skills, once again. Even so, Nys didn't want to hear the prediction of another Nys-dominated cyclo-cross season.
"Today I was on top of the others but I'm sure there will be other occasions where I'll be between them. Martin Bina is very strong, so are Niels Albert and Lars van der Haar. There's also a strong Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels who was unlucky today," Nys said. "I'm 37, I'm not worrying a lot. My build-up to the season wasn't like I hoped it would be due to jet lag. The trip to the US was well worth the time though. Nevertheless, right on time I'm ready."
Arch rival Niels Albert won the Bpost Bank cyclo-cross series last year but the 27-year-old had to bow for Nys in Ronse this time around. Last year Albert showed a lot of consistency but a lack of wins due to the domination of Nys. After the finish in the interview area a shivering Albert expressed his hope for better, though sounding a little frustrated too. "It was no secret that he would go well here. It's good for him I guess. It was a nice race, spectacular for the TV. Hopefully next week it'll be me who wins," Albert said.
"Sven is more technical on those short off-camber sections. It doesn't suit me that well. If I'm not on the wheels there I'm in trouble. It's not a major difference but it's there. The Koppenberg has a similar off-camber section in the descent," Albert said.
Nys may try to play down his domination, he certainly has a mental bonus on his rivals. Pauwels crashed hard early on in the race and crossed a deserted finish line five minutes after the world champion. Vantornout tried to follow Nys but blew his engine. Most riders have a lot to think about on the way back home on Sunday evening, while Nys is in the comfort seat. If he loses one of the next races, it's a confirmation of what he claims. If he wins, it's a bonus.