For a brief moment in the UCI Cyclo-cross World Championship elite men's race, it looked as if Sven Nys might close out his career with a third world title. But against a new generation of immense talent, the 39-year-old had no answer. He finished the race waving to his fans while rolling across the line in fourth place behind compatriot Kevin Pauwels. Having played a small part in teammate Wout Van Aert's victory, Nys was satisfied with his ride.
"I am incredibly happy with my performance," said Nys, who struggled to hold back his tears during a post-race interview with Sporza. "I am very emotional and I never thought that would happen. I am fourth, a few seconds away from the podium and I fought for the title. I never dared to dream that I could do that at my age."
Just last week in Hoogerheide, Nys finished a distant 13th, 3:20 behind Van der Poel, and during the opening half of the race, it seemed the young generation had left Nys and the rest behind again for good. But out-numbered by Dutch riders Lars van der Haar and defending champion Mathieu van der Poel, Van Aert went to the front and slowed the pace down enough for a group of seven riders to rejoin the front of the race. One of them was Nys, and he took an opportunity to stick in an attack that thrilled the crowds, but just as quickly ended.
"I did what I could and I was where I had to sit down," Nys said. "On the steep climb I just had to succumb to the best rider of the moment. But I am extremely happy with my performance."
Nys was pleased he could do his part to get back up to Van Aert and reshuffle the odds for his teammate. "I am pleased that we were able to finish it as a country. We can be proud," he said.
Personally, Nys was not concerned that he missed the podium. "I can't imagine a nicer demonstration. Second, third, or fourth, I don't care. I have given it my all. Last week I finished down three minutes - now I have few words."