A tangle with Albert and another crash couldn't keep Nys from winning Azencross yet again. © Bart Hazen

Sven Nys hopes to keep the tri-color jersey for another year. © Bart Hazen

by Christine Vardaros

Nys is Pre-Race Favorite With a Little Help from Mother Nature

Back in October, when Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago) placed ninth in his first race of the season and DNF’d a week later at round one of the World Cup Circuit in Treviso, it caused a ripple of concern throughout the cyclo-cross community.  But with Belgian National Championships taking place in Oostmalle this Sunday, he once again enters as race favorite thanks to his return of form and a little help from Mother Nature.

“It was hard in the beginning, going from Mountain Bike World Championships in Australia to the first Cyclo-Cross World Cup [Treviso, Italy] only a few weeks later. My condition was good but the traveling and the combination of the two disciplines made it really tough for me in the beginning. Since I couldn’t be really good in the overall World Cup Ranking, I stopped [in Treviso] and focused instead on having a good feeling after that. A few weeks later everything was okay and I started winning. Now at the end of the year I won a lot of big races and I feel myself in a really good shape for the Championships.”

When asked if he considers himself the guy to beat, Nys responds “Of course the World Champion Niels Albert is the biggest favorite for this season – at every race.  And he is especially motivated to get the Belgian champion title.  For him it’s a very important race.”

Sven Nys hopes for similar snowy conditions as Tervuren. © Dirk Verhelst

Sven Nys hopes for similar snowy conditions as Tervuren. © Dirk Verhelst

When asked why everyone is instead naming him as favorite, Nys admits, “I am their favorite because there is snow and ice. That is the only reason they say it.  Of course it’s true. I have a good feeling on my bike when its snow and ice but for the rest, Niels is World Champion. He has overall ranking in World Cup and Superprestige. [Nys took over the GVA Trofee lead after winning GP Sven Nys in Baal last weekend].  He won most races this year.  And Oostmalle, when it’s a normal track, he is always really good. He’s the most important rider to beat.  But when you talk about tactics or a good feeling on the track when there is snow and ice then I can say I’m the biggest favorite.”

As for Mother Nature’s effects on the race, Nys says “I think the race is really special this year because there is a lot of snow. Every day the track changes because there are a lot of riders on the track right now making it slippery, so we must wait until 3o’clock Sunday to see what happens on the track. To win this race you must have a good condition and a good feeling on the bike.  For me it’s good that it’s snowing again because I won a lot of races at the end of the year on snow and ice so the motivation and the feeling is really good!” If he pulls it off, it will be his 7th National Title in the Elites.  His first one was ten years ago in the 1999/2000 season.

It seems that mother nature is indeed on his side as it has been snowing most days the last week, with the biggest snowstorm hitting Saturday, just one day before the event.  As the temperature is expected to remain below freezing point, the course should be ideal for him -covered in ice with a sizeable layer of snow shielding the ice from view.

As for the third guy on the podium, Nys surmises, “Normally when you see the last races you must say Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea) because he won the Zolder World Cup. He’s a really technical rider.  For me that’s the most important guy for the podium. Maybe he can also win if he is leading in the beginning of the race. Then you have Klaas [Vantornout of Sunweb-Revor], Sven [Vanthourenhout of  Sunweb-Revor],  and Tom Meeusen [Telenet-Fidea] – a new guy, but he doesn’t have a lot of power for the end of the race.” Meeusen dominated the U-23 field up until he made the official jump to Elite last week. He has already had two second places behind Nys last month and placed fourth last week in a sprint finish with Niels Albert in Fidea’s International Cyclocross Tervuren.

Erwin Verveck will race his final Belgian National Championships. He raced well at Kalmthout in the snow. © Inge Schenck

Erwin Verveck will race his final Belgian National Championships. He raced well at Kalmthout in the snow. © Inge Schenck

Another one to watch is Erwin Vervecken.  He always seems to rise an extra level for the big events.  As he is retiring this season, his motivation will be especially high.  Keeping his aspirations modest, he exclaims,  “I hope to finish in top five, but it will be difficult.  The track is perfect for me in normal weather conditions, but I’m not the best technician.  I’m also not so good in the snow and ice.  I think Nys is going to win.”  As for looking forward to World Championships, Vervecken hopes he’ll make the Belgian selection.  ” It would be my 21st selection and what is more interesting – I have always been selected since 1989!”  It is expected that 3x World Champion will indeed be chosen considering his track record for that yearly special event.

My personal pick for top five is: Nys, Albert, Pauwels, Meeusen, and either Sven Vanthourenhout or Vervecken to round out the podium.  Bart Wellens and Bart Aernouts are possibilities as well.  Normally I would have put Wellens on my top five list but he told me a couple of days ago that his return to form will not be in time for Nationals. Instead he plans to work in support for teammates Pauwels and Meeusen.  He says Meeusen is possibly better technically than Nys.  But, as Nys mentioned, it may take him some time before he’s solid for a full hour of racing.

Tune in tomorrow to our LIVE COVERAGE of the Belgian National Championships.