Belgium’s Sven Nys, 36, has said that he no longer has the body of a young man. But that didn’t matter Saturday.
Nys capitalized on more than two decades of racing at the sport’s top level to capture his second cyclocross world title, cementing his status as the greatest rider cyclocross has ever seen.
“It’s amazing,” Nys said, beaming at the finish. “Mentally, I’m young. My body is a little bit older, but mentally I feel young still.”
In one of the muddiest worlds ever, Nys said he was happy to bide his time in the first half of the race, riding top 10 as Francis Mourey of France took the early lead with Belgium’s Kevin Pauwels.
But as the laps ticked away, and the technical, muddy course eliminated all the pretenders, Nys made his way to the front with teammate Klaas Vantornout, before finally separating himself from his countryman on the last lap to take gold.
“The key for me was waiting for the second part of the race where I am normally the strongest—you saw that all season,” Nys said. “For me it was ‘Try to stay calm, don’t make any mistakes, and wait until Mourey makes some mistakes.’”
Runner-up Vantornout, who recently won his first Belgian national title, said he was happy enough with second.
“It was very close in the last lap and I made a few mistakes,” he said. “I was very close today, and I am lucky that I have my Belgian champion’s jersey. My season was already very good from beginning to end—and also today.”
Rising Dutch star Lars van deer Haar, 22, impressed everyone—including himself—to take bronze in his first elite world championship.
“I kept my head calm and kept it till the end,” he said. “And I’m pretty happy I got third given the conditions. I showed today that I’ve got power as well, and that gives me confidence for next year.”
History Is Made
The weekend’s races in Louisville were a milestone for cyclocross: It was the first time the UCI Cyclocross World Championships were held outside of Europe in the event’s 63-year history.
Race organizers estimated that 10,000 people showed up to watch the best riders in the world—despite the snow, freezing temperatures, and mud.
But the weekend almost met with disaster.
On Friday, threats of flooding from the Ohio River forced organizers to make a last-minute change and run Sunday’s two elite races on Saturday as they tried to beat the rising waters creeping up just yards from the course at Eva Bandman Park.
While certain riders of the Belgian delegation were critical of the race organizers for “amateur” planning and said they needed that extra day to prepare properly, the veteran Nys kept his cool and stayed focused.
Nys also praised the first cyclocross worlds to be held in the U.S., saying the course was very technical and “European” and that the atmosphere all week was superb.
“I felt before the race that I got the respect from all of the U.S. fans and I felt myself really calm,” he said. “That is what I needed to win this race.”
When asked why it had taken him so long to follow up on his first world title back in 2005, Nys said many of the world championship races in the past decade have been held on fast courses that weren’t “technical” enough to allow him to use his honed bike-handling skills.
And although he still has a handful of races to do in February before the European cyclocross season ends, Nys said he was already looking forward to next year.
“There’s new motivation to try to win as many races as possible in the world championship jersey,” he said. “I’m definitely strong enough to win races again next year.”
Vos’s Reign Continues in Dutch Hat Trick
In the women’s race, Marianne Vos of the Netherlands took her second consecutive world cyclocross title, finishing well clear of America’s Katie Compton and France’s Lucie Chainel-Lefevre.
“The plan was to do a good race, and of course I didn’t expect to get such a big gap from the first lap on,” said Vos, who is also the world road champion. “It is America, of course, and Katie had some struggles in the beginning and that made the gap possible for me in the first lap.
“I have to say the Americans are really cool and were cheering for me too. Getting the world championship is really an amazing feeling, and it is different because it is in America and it is the first time it is overseas, so that makes it special. In the end, it is the same race with the same racers, and for me the pressure gets higher every year because people expect me to win.”
Compton, a big favorite coming into Saturday, said she struggled at the start of the race and spent much of her time battling other riders before chasing Vos.
She also said that she kept dropping her chain, which slowed her down in the early laps.
“I just had to wait to pass everyone from third spot to the top 10. I kept making silly mistakes and trying to get around where I shouldn’t have. After a couple of laps I regrouped and relaxed and started riding my race, refocusing, being smooth and started chasing people down.
“I did everything I could and Marianne obviously had a gap. The thought of not winning a medal here was heartbreaking, so there was no way in hell that was going to happen. I put everything out there and rode with a lot of heart and did everything I could.
“Today I felt like I won a silver, not that I got second,” Compton added.
In addition to Vos’s gold medal, Dutchmen Mike Teunissen won the under-23 race and Mathieu Van der Poel won the junior title.
Teunissen made his move in the final lap to win gold ahead of Belgian duo Wietse Bosmans and Wout van Aert.
Van der Poel won easily ahead of teammate Martijn Budding.
“Here in America [the fans] are a little more crazy,” Teunissen said. “The crowd was absolutely astonishingly noisy. It was fantastic to ride in such great walls of sound.”
Americans Come Up Short
Tim Johnson was the best-placed American rider, finishing 19th. Jonathan Page had a good start riding around top 10, but he suffered several mechanicals and finished 22nd.
Junior rider Logan Owen finished just off the podium in his race, finishing fourth.