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Nys beats Van der Poel to win cyclo-cross 'triathlon'

Junior cycle-cross world champion Thibau Nys en route to victory at the 2020 Battle of Balenberg
Junior cycle-cross world champion Thibau Nys en route to victory at the 2020 Battle of Balenberg (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Junior cyclo-cross world champion Thibau Nys was able to get the better of a host of older and more experienced cyclo-cross stars, including Mathieu van der Poel, Eli Iserbyt and Laurens Sweeck, over three events at the Battle of Balenberg cyclo-cross 'triathlon' in Baal, Belgium, last week.

Seventeen-year-old Nys, who is the son of two-time elite cyclo-cross world champion and six-time World Cup winner Sven Nys, and rides for the AA Drink Jongeren Team – a feeder team to his father's Telenet Baloise Lions squad – won all three of the men's events that made up the unique competition: a 400-metre technical time trial, a 'sandbox challenge' and a final, longer time trial.

The Battle of Balenberg – the Slag om Balenberg, which took place last Monday, but was only broadcast by Sporza at the weekend – was held at the Sven Nys Cycling Center in Baal, located on the climb of the Balenberg, which is also used for the GP Nys cyclo-cross race, which is part of the DVV Trofee series.

In the women's event, 2019/20 UCI World Cup winner Annemarie Worst (777) took the overall victory by virtue of winning two of the three disciplines – both of the time trials – while junior world champion Shirin van Anrooij won the event in the sand.

That second discipline involved riders trying to ride as far uphill on a sand section as they could. Each rider was given two chances, and it was Nys who got the furthest in both attempts in the men's competition, having already set the fastest time in the opening event, when riders were timed over a technical 400m course. Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal's Sweeck finished second to Nys in both events.

As race leader, Nys then started last in the third and final event, which was a 1.68km time trial. Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) had set the fastest time by over a second from Sweeck, but Nys bettered Van der Poel's time by more than two seconds to definitively sew up the overall title.

"It's true that this is my training course here; I was basically born here, and I know the surface perfectly," Nys said of the course at his father's cycling centre. "But I rode that final test perfectly: I had control over the bike and rode the perfect lap, without any errors. But I am surprised that nobody did better; my opponents were still strong riders."

However, he played down any notions that he might be the rider to challenge the dominance of three-time elite world champion Van der Poel any time soon.

"A cyclo-cross race takes an hour, which is different from four minutes," he said, according to Het Nieuwsblad. "You can't draw any conclusions from this. I have to get an even bigger engine to compete with Mathieu and the rest so that I can ride with big power for a long time. But it's nice to win here; I didn't know this was possible."