This past weekend a Category 1 Sven-Nado hit the city of Chicago.
Chicago’s xXx Racing-Athletico hosted its third annual cyclocross clinics with Sven Nys and Sven Vanthourenhout at Caldwell Woods on the city’s northwest side. The Svens hosted a full-day clinic on Saturday and then a second one after Sunday’s Chicago Cross Cup Caldwell Woods race.
xXx Racing-Athletico invited Cyclocross Magazine brave the Chicago traffic and watch the clinic and check out the Chicago Cross Cup scene.
This year marked the third straight year the Svens have come to Chicago ahead of the U.S. World Cups to impart their extensive amount of cyclocross knowledge to developing cyclocrossers. The first clinic was called the Svens Clinic, and last year was the Return of the Svens.
This year’s title “Sven-Nado” just kept rolling with the obvious nomenclature.
“We decided to go with the movie theme,” Kirby said. “We decided Sven-Nado would be appropriate. There are several people on the team who are huge fans of the Sharknado film series, and I just couldn’t argue against them. Nonetheless, I think it’s a great name.”
Remembering a Friend
The story of the Svens clinic is sadly one born out of tragedy.
In the mid-2000s, Pieter Ombregt traveled from Belgium to Chicago to study photography at Columbia University. Ombregt also liked racing bikes, and so he joined the xXx Racing-Athletico team.
Kirby was close with the Belgian transplant. “Pieter Ombregt was a teammate of mine in 2006 and 2007,” he said. “He was a very successful photographer. He had a couple of big shows, including one at Water Tower Place. We used to go on long rides together, so I was a good friend of his.”
On September 11, 2007, Ombregt crashed during a practice criterium. His injuries were severe, and he ultimately passed away participating in the sport he loved.
After Ombregt’s passing, Kirby became friends with his parents who live in Belgium. Kirby has now stayed with them three times while participating in the Tour of Flanders Cyclo Sportive fondo.
Then it turns out, someone knew a guy. “It turns out they have family friends who live in the same town as Sven Vanthourenhout, so they got in contact with him and it all kind of snowballed from there,” Kirby said. “I got an email about of the blue from friends in Belgium who had reached out to them, and Sven and Sven very generously gave their time and effort to come help us here.”
Pieter Ombregt’s legacy still survives via the Pieter Ombregt Scholarship Fund at Columbia College, Chicago that his aunt Anne-Marie Ombregt created. For Kirby and his team, it made sense to donate proceeds from the Sven-Nado clinic to the Scholarship Fund. “We decided to do a benefit to contribute to that scholarship and help people remember Pieter and the wonderful work he did as a photographer,” Kirby said. [Email [email protected] for more information.]
The Sven-Nado Hits Caldwell Woods
Cyclocross clinics are a great way for new cyclocrossers to learn basic skills such as starts and barriers as well as things they did not think they would ever need to work on. With the Sven-Nado clinic, attendees got the chance to learn from two of the greatest athletes the sport has ever seen teach you for an evening or afternoon?
Just a few minutes into Sunday’s clinic after the CCC Caldwell Woods race, it was apparent that both Sven Nys and Sven Vanthourenhout enjoy teaching newcomers about the sport. It was still pretty cool to see the Belgian National Coach and coach of the Telenet Fidea Lions working with clinic attendees and teaching them basic skills they long ago committed to memory.
The infectious enthusiasm Nys brings every time he comes to the U.S. was hard to miss on Sunday. After he pretty much broke the internet by riding up the stairs during the Cat 4/5 race last year, fellow former BMXer Timothy Strelecki hopped the barriers and rode up the side of the stairs (we will give him an 8/10, with the chance for a 10/10 if he rides the concrete next year) during the Elite Men’s race.
“That’s good,” Nys said about the move. “I heard he came out of BMX racing, so he has the technical skills and he has the balance. It is good to see there is somebody coming.”
It would be hard to argue that the move was not Sven inspired.
“I think it’s fantastic to see the way the Svens come and introduce all of this energy by showing what’s possible on a cyclocross bike on a cyclocross course,” Kirby said. “The different ways you can attack any of the obstacles, whether it’s corners, barriers, stairs. It’s really fantastic to see that not just Sven is doing those amazing things, but the riders are doing it as well.”
Kirby said about 50 riders participated in the day-long Saturday clinic, and about 30 cyclocrossers of all ages stuck around after Sunday’s race for the three-hour clinic.
Nys described what riders could expect to work on at the clinic. “Some small things. Technical skills, up and down the small climbs, jumping on and off the bike, shifting at the right moment, accelerations, doing some starts. All small things, but they can help a lot when you’re doing a race like today’s.”
The clinic started, as many do, with starts.
In between providing advice on how to get better starts, Nys also likes to jump in participate with the clinic attendees. During the holeshot drill, several ’crossers got the chance to beat Nys off the line. Frankly, by watching him, many much more experienced riders would probably learn a thing or two by how quickly he snaps off each pedal strong after the whistle.
Last year, I attended a clinic Nys put on before the Trek CX Cup / World Cup Waterloo weekend. One of the drills he had us do was line up about two pedal strokes away from the steep barn flyover and try to get clipped in and up and over the incline in a matter of a few yards. This was after he sent the group down one of the toughest descents on last year’s course.
I was impressed that despite the varying skill levels of the group, Nys still provided interesting and challenging drills that I maybe would not have otherwise thought of.
After the starts came the barriers, where riders did a regular remount and then one right into shouldering the bike.
On Sunday, one of the first things he had the clinic attendees do was skate down a steep hill while clipped in on one foot, holding the top tube.
It was impressive how quickly everyone embraced the challenge, even though it was not necessarily a skill many had worked on before.
I have had the chance to interact with Nys several times during the past year, and another thing that has always impressed me is how much he embraces his role as a cyclocross ambassador to the U.S. Cynically, perhaps it is motivated by his relationship with Trek, but he does seem to really enjoy coming to the U.S. and introducing energy into the sport here.
Nys clinics also mean it is a time for the Belgian legend to do cool stuff. On Saturday, he reprised his hop and stair ride, and then while I was around on Sunday, he tried to skate down the concrete he rode up last year.
Unfortunately, going up proved much easier than going down in this case. Given time though, he probably would have mastered it.
He was able to ride up a series of switchbacks with one hand, so all was not lost in the field of cool bike tricks.
During the different drills, Sven Vanthourenhout focused on working with riders one-on-one. During the drills at the stairs and barriers, he frequently hopped on his bike and helped answer riders’ questions and help them with tips and tricks.
At the switchback climb and then descent, Vanthourenhout was at each corner helping show riders the lines and help them navigate the tricky technical section.
For the younger riders, he also provided a steady, guiding hand down the steep descent.
As I left Caldwell Woods, I can see why Coach Mayhew suggested bringing a pen and paper to a ’cross clinic. Sven and Sven dropped a lot of knowledge during the three-hour clinic and remembering it all would certainly come in handy the rest of the season.
At least, that’s what Kirby and others lucky enough to get struck by the Sven-Nado are hoping after a successful third year of the Sven clinic franchise.
“We had a great clinic on Saturday. We had about 50 people out here for the full-length six-hour clinic. It was an absolute blast. We were all exhausted at the end of it, so my race may have not gone very well today, but all of my future races will go much better after applying all the things I learned yesterday.”
Interviews with Sven and Sven