Although he surged back into the overall Superprestige series lead with a tremendous come-from-behind effort to take third in Gavere on Sunday, Belgian champion Sven Nys (Crelan-AA-Drink) has as of yet been unable to add any more victories to his palmarès in the series.
Even Nys-haters will acknowledge that the cyclo-cross legend is the reference in every race he starts. That wasn't any different at the fourth Superprestige round in Gavere. Though Nys started relatively slowly, his shadow was constantly cast over the leaders. Were they safe when the 38-year-old was a minute behind? A late comeback resulted in a third place that but for a mechanical incident could have been his 65th Superprestige win. "More was possible," Nys said.
After a good start Nys quickly faded through the pack and out of the top 10. He faded further back throughout the opening lap on the muddy course. "That was part of the plan," Nys said. "I didn't want to make the mistake to follow the leaders and blow up my engine. It was a heavy start and I rode at my own pace.
"It was my tactic to ride faster every lap but I was trailing more than I anticipated," he said. Then, Nys' tactical plan was ruined when his chain came off in the second lap.
Suddenly trailing by a minute on five leaders, including eventual winner Klaas Vantornout (Sunweb – Napoleon Games), Nys had too much ground to make up. "I was standing still for about fifteen seconds. From there, third place was the best possible result. I was picking up riders whenever I could. In the end I saw the leaders riding ahead of me but it was too far. I came back to about ten seconds," Nys said, adding that without the chain problem the win would have been possible.
Former Superprestige leader Mathieu van der Poel (BKCP-Powerplus) only managed a sixth place, making Nys the new leader of the series. "That's good news. It's better to lead now than to be trailing behind."
In four Superprestige rounds Nys finished respectively third, second, fourth and again third on Sunday. That's somewhat different than his usual domination in the series he won thirteen times before. "In the past I won the series by winning every round, maybe I can win the series now without winning a single round. That would be unique as well."
Seven winners from seven major races
Vantornout was the seventh rider to claim victory in the three major cyclo-cross race series events: Van der Poel claimed the opening Superprestige round in Gieten, Nys won the BPost Trofee race in Ronse, Lars van der Haar leads the UCI World Cup after winning in Valkenburg, Wout Van Aert won the Koppenbergcross, and Kevin Pauwels, Tom Meeusen and Klaas Vantornout were the winners in the last three Superprestige races in Zonhoven, Ruddervoorde and Gavere, respectively.
"It's an interesting stat. It might mean that there's more riders at the top than before," Nys said. "It will probably mean that more riders can have a shot at the overall victory in one of the classifications. That should make for more interesting races."
During previous years riders tended to ride at ease in the races where they were no longer highly placed and went flat out in the series where they were still in the mix for glory.
Vantornout felt the wide spread of winners would come to an end pretty soon at Saturday's second World Cup round in Koksijde, Belgium. "From now on, I'll win all the races," Vantornout joked. "No, I'm not a prolific winner but it's fantastic to finally win a big classic cross race. I think I'm the most steady performer and that's what matters."
Would Vantornout concern himself with the overall Superprestige series? "I don't care about classifications." he replied.
If the series of winners is to be continued then it remains to be seen who that rider will be. With all respect to the stack of riders who didn't win a big race so far but it's difficult to tag a rider who actually can win at the highest level.
"I'm wondering too who could be the next one," Nys said.