By Laura Weislo, with additional reporting from Brecht Decaluwé
UCI rankings leader Sven Nys continued his domination of the European cyclo-cross circuit over the past ten days, stacking up four wins in seven races over the peak holiday racing season and extending his lead in the overall standings of the World Cup, Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy and Superprestige series.
Nys began the post-Christmas marathon with a big win at the Hofstade World Cup. On a varied and challenging course, Nys faced off against his rival Bart Wellens (Fidea) with the help of his Rabobank teammate Lars Boom in what was called the greatest 'cross race of the season.
"This is why we became cyclo-cross riders," Nys said after he and Boom were able to distance Wellens, who made a tactical decision to take a bike change after low tyre pressure hampered him in the wooded section. Nys then steamed away from Boom, who struggled in the sand on the final lap, to take his fourth World Cup of the season.
Nys took a day off after his victory, skipping the C2 Sylvester 'cross in Torhout, which Fidea's Klaas Vantornout won in convincing style ahead of Ben Berden (Revor) and Francis Mourey (FdJ). He then went into the fifth round of the GvA Trophy in Loenhout with the intention of solidifying his lead in that series, however he wound up in a chase group behind Boom, Niels Albert (Palmans) and Zdenek Stybar (Fidea) riding alongside Wellens. With Boom threatening Wellens' second place in the series, Nys was content to let the trio ride away. He then powered away to take fourth place, extending his series tally to 250 points to Wellens' 238.
The C2 race in Middelkerke was next, and the North Sea weather did all it could to throw the riders off their game. Overnight rains turned the course into a mud pit which hid tyre-punching rocks that plagued many riders with flats. Nys proved both strongest and luckiest, coming in safely for the win ahead of American Jonathan Page. The win was no fluke, as Nys made sure to race his hardest, even in the lower ranked race. "I couldn't turn up because of a cold," said Nys about missing last year's edition. "This year I wanted to give something back to all these fans. And no, it's not possible for me to take a day off," Nys said, explaining why he was driven to victory.
The North Sea 'cross turned out to be the perfect warm-up for round six of the Superprestige in Diegem. Adopting an unusual format, the organisers started the men after dark, giving a new challenge to the riders. Nys was unfazed, and went away with Czech rider Radomir Simunek Jr. on the first lap. The pair stayed away until Simunek made a bobble in a dark corner and was left chasing second place.
"I have to say it's something special with this light," Nys applauded the special race conditions in Diegem. "I couldn't see the riders ahead of or behind me. After a while you get used to it and avoid the dark spots." The win put Nys 14 points clear of Wellens, who took fifth, in the series.
Nys then went on to win his fourth race in his hometown of Baal in the GP Sven Nys, which was round six of the GvA Trophy. With Wellens laid up with the flu, Nys was virtually unchallenged for the win, and solidified his lead in the series. His teammate Boom overtook Wellens' ranking with a solid fourth place on the day, while Stybar also leapfrogged over Wellens into third after coming second to Nys in Baal.