It's been more than a month since Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) won a cyclo-cross race and that's created quite a stir in Flanders. The local media started writing off the Belgian champion, insinuating that at 34 years old it would no longer be possible for the legendary cyclo-cross rider to battle against the young wolves like world champion Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea) and Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus).
On Monday afternoon, however, Nys answered the criticism with a demonstration of power at the Koppenbergcross. From the second lap on Nys was alone in the lead and he simply crushed the opposition to win the race for the eighth time in his career. The combination of two tough races in one weekend enabled a strong rider like Nys to come to the surface, especially when the second event was the toughest of both.
"This was a race that I really wanted to win," said Nys. "Only a fully developed 'cross rider can win here and once again I've put it onto my list. I can enjoy this victory for more than a year, I'm completely sure about that.
"I don't know what's going to happen during the upcoming weeks but I'll surely be living on a cloud during the next few days."
While talking to the press after the race it was clear Nys was relieved that he pulled of his first big win of the season. He explained that he needed this one to keep the confidence high.
"The pressure is off the boiler now after clinching my first classification race of the season," said Nys. "The pressure is enormously high. I never doubted myself but more and more the same questions came back: can you still do it, are you on the way back... I kept myself away from that and kept doing the same work I always do.
"I lived up towards this race. It succeeded and without wasting many words to the matter I answered the critics with the pedals today. I'm still standing," Nys said before adding that he might have needed the pressure from the outer world.
"Maybe at my age I need to get a bit angry, without showing it. The last two, three days I didn't sleep too well because I told myself that it was time to make things happen. I told a journalist this week that I had to and would be on the podium at the Koppenberg. It was the first time I've put the pressure that high for myself. After yesterday I knew that - except for bad luck - I would be very close to the victory."
Most of the 20,000 fans along the course at the Koppenberg were delighted to see the Nys of old crushing his rivals and he explained he was thrilled by the ambiance in Melden. "It's a great moment. I've been riding around with goose-bumps for the full sixty minutes thanks to all the fans that supported me that strongly. Halfway the race they shouted to me that it was in the pocket but of course that's not the case. During the last lap I flatted and I thought it could still go all wrong," Nys said.
For riders like Zdenek Stybar it is clear that he'll have to take Nys into consideration for the remainder of the season as the Belgian champion isn't planning to select only a few races to perform well. "Together with my coach Paul Van den Bosch we decided to stick to the original plan and build up our season like we want to and not like the press tells us to," said Nys. "Then again, I read today that he told someone that if I wasn't good today that we should start worrying. Well, I can say that nobody has to worry. We've climbed up another level and that's it."