Sven Nys called an end to his life as a professional cyclist after competing in his final cyclo-cross race at the Internationale Sluitingsprijs Oostmalle on Sunday. After riding a slow final lap, where he thanked fans and waited for teammate Sven Vanthourenhout, Nys crossed the finish line and drew a line under what has been an illustrious career.
"It's over, it's over, it's been great,” Nys said, according to Sporza.“I've given my whole career, 365 days a year, for my sport. I hope that the youth, the sponsors and the organizers can reap more of the benefits. I'm going to end this part of my life with people who are dear to me. Within a month, I will disappear into a little bit of anonymity and then I will take a different route in my life."
The 39-year-old would eventually come home in 27th, more than three minutes behind the race winner Kevin Pauwels, not that he’ll be too worried about that. Nys had been ill in the build-up to the race and his form ahead of the race was an unknown. He did give it a red hot go but, when that didn’t work, Nys decided to enjoy the final moments of his racing career.
“I tried a long time for the win, but Van der Haar made a mistake, and I rode into him," he said. "The point of my saddle came down. I tried, but I could not find more speed. I could not put more pressure. The spring was broken.
"I have given everything to stand on the podium again. When that did not work anymore, I decided just to enjoy it."
Nys has had a long and successful career, which began in 1998 when he signed his first contract with Rabobank. During his lengthy career, Nys has amassed more than 300 victories, including two world championship titles, six world cups and nine national championships. He also has five national titles in mountain biking. The 2005 season was possibly his best after he won the national title, the Gazet van Antwerpen Trophy, the cyclo-cross World Cup, the Superprestige titles, and ended the season as the world number one – the only rider to ever do so.
Tributes for the Belgian rider poured in from fans and fellow athletes before and after the race. Cycling apparel company Bontrager posted a photo of Nys hugging his son after the race on Twitter with the simple caption, ‘thank you’.
Ahead of the race, reigning world champion Wout Van Aert wrote on Twitter, “Today will be a special day. I feel honoured that I can participate in the last race of CX legend @sven_nys. Enjoy.”
“Thanks everyone for all these messages all those fine words all those images and all those warm hugs,” Nys wrote on Twitter.
Nys will take part in a couple of farewell events, with a ‘Merci Sven’ event his final send-off on March 5. Nys will remain in cycling following his retirement as the manager of the Telenet Fidea team, a job he will begin next month.