After grabbing his eighth Belgian cyclo-cross title in Hooglede-Gits Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) was understandably emotional. He rode straight to his clan and the big hugs showed what hard work had been put into this performance. The ‘cannibal’ explained afterwards that the tears in his eyes were caused not so much by his performance as by his tumultuous day.
“I’ve never cried after a win but today it all came together. First I thought that I wouldn’t be able to start and a few hours later I won. I’ve never gone through something like that,” Nys said. “I try to enjoy top-level sport because I like it. Once in a while you’re surprised like this morning. I don’t think I need to prove anything to the outside world.”
His performance in Hooglede was a classic one, including a lacklustre start. During the second lap of the race he bridged up to leader Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and one lap later he left the defending champion behind to start a long solo ride. Between 20,000 and 25,000 spectators saw the man from Baal show off his class on the soaked course, in a display that belied the hectic hours that preceded it.
The week before the championships Nys opted to travel to Majorca where he could train, rest and spend time with his family. The day before the race, Nys flew back to Belgium. “Yesterday I had a long trip ahead of me. In Barcelona I had to wait three hours to get a connection to Brussels. It was already quite late and I wouldn’t be able to complete a normal training ride. I picked up a bike at the airport and quickly arrived home. All went according to plan from there. I received a good massage, which was important to me. This morning I rode on the rollers and afterwards I stretched like I usually do and suddenly I could no longer move my back. I started crying like a little child,” Nys said.
After calling his coach, Paul Van Den Bosch, it was clear that Nys needed somebody to manipulate his back. “That wasn’t easy on a Sunday. My usual physio was already in Hooglede but luckily we found someone. After that manipulation the blockage was gone but the muscles were completely cramped. It takes a while before that is gone and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to use all my power. We tried all sorts of stuff to solve that issue, like heat patches,” Nys said.
A sore Nys could barely walk out of his car on arriving in Hooglede but at least he was able to move. He rode four laps on the course to warm-up instead of his usual three. “That fourth lap I was already showing improvement but the start of the race was still difficult. Things went better from there and I moved up and felt that I was able to get back on Niels,” Nys said.
A little later, Nys had a gap and from there he rode his own pace. “I wasn’t planning to accelerate even more. It was Niels who had to come back. He will have found out that riding at that pace for the rest of the race wasn’t possible,” Nys said. From there the gap with Albert grew up to fifty seconds at the finish line.
One day before the race the organizers opted to change the course in Hooglede by removing a strip of sloping meadow which made the course not only shorter but also less hard. Nys didn’t like that adjustment and he also felt that the course builders had planned the pit zones poorly.
“If you hear that the course is extremely hard and then you hear that they remove the hardest loop one day before the race, then that’s not good. Then you hear that the youth categories need only six minute to cover a lap so you think it’s going to be fast. They take away some of your strength but it only makes me more aggressive. It’s like in the days when they took away the hurdles because they thought I could not win without them. They can also try to scrape away the sandhills in Koksijde,” Nys said, referring to the upcoming world championships course in Koksijde which should suit him to perfection.
“It’s a major mistake to do something like that the day before the race. Even more serious was that we had two pit zones in two minutes and then six minutes without one,” Nys continued, clearly disappointed with the work of the course builders.
“It’s good to once again ride in this Belgian jersey. There are two more prizes within my reach but I’ll have to battle up against a strong Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) for that,” Nys said before talking about the world championships, and he issued a firm plea for the national coach to select his teammate and friend Sven Vanthourenhout (Landbouwkrediet).
“It’s great to head to the world championships as the Belgian champion. I would like to ask that the federation selects the man in fourth today. I need that man, not only in the race but also outside of it, in the room. He lifts me up to a higher level. He goes through the fire for me. Some other Belgians might say that too but they’ll only do it if they don’t have the legs to win but he’ll do it for sure. In Koksijde he probably helped me only for a minute but it was invaluable to win the race,” Nys said. Vanthourenhout helped things a lot with his fourth place in Hooglede but he might have to confirm that top result with good performances in the following two World Cup rounds.
In between those World Cup rounds Nys will not head back and forth to
Majorca. “It was good to be away with the family. I secretly looked into flights again but there’s not enough time to do those flights ahead of the world championships. It’s a hassle that weighs on you as well. There are some obligations I can’t get around so I’m staying at home. If it’s really foul weather here it’s an option though, but it’s not planned,” Nys said, before making one final bard at the course builders in Hooglede.
“I might head to Koksijde one of these days to check out the course. I guess they will not make adjustments to that one,” he smiled.