Sven Nys at the Roubaix Cyclocross World Cup in 2009. © Joe Sales

Sven Nys hopes to trade the stress of the World Cup leader's jersey for an easy ride in the USGP leader's jersey. (file photo, 2009 Roubaix World Cup © Joe Sales)

by Benjamin Kirsch

Sven Nys, who, with seven Belgian national titles, a World Championship, and almost uncountable Superprestige, World Cup, and GVA Trofee wins, might be the most successful European cyclocross racer of his generation, has announced he will spend next season racing exclusively in the United States.

“In Europe we have known cyclocross is growing in the United States,” he told Cyclocross Magazine in an exclusive interview. “So the time is right for a European to try something like this, especially with the World Championships coming to Louisville in 2013.”

Nys, who was seen talking to Cross Vegas promoter Brook Watts at the World Championships in Sankt Wendel, Germany, earlier this year, said he will launch his trans-Atlantic campaign at the Las Vegas race in September. In recent years several top Europeans have made appearances at the race in Nevada including French Champion Francis Mourey and Rabobank’s Gerben DeKnegt last year and former World Champion Erwin Vervecken in 2009.

None, however, have remained in the US for an entire season.

The Belgian superstar Nys, who also serves as the athlete’s representative on the UCI Cyclocross Commission, said he saw the change of venue as a chance to promote international cyclocross, but also as an escape from the “tight constraints” of European racing.

When Cyclocross Magazine asked the so called Kannibaal van Baal exactly what he meant by constraints, he offered a series of examples.

“Every year I do the race in Asper-Gavere,” explained Nys of a race many have called one of the most difficult in the world. “I always say it is one of my favorites, but it is really very hard. There is a very difficult climb, and a very dangerous descent. And it is always very muddy, and often cold and raining. They tell me it never rains in Las Vegas, and in some other American races the racers drive in pleasant parks on the seaside. Even though I have to pretend it is not so for the press, I think this is the style of riding I prefer. At the very least, it will be a new challenge in my final years of my career.”

Nys also said he looked forward to the flexibility racing in the United States will afford him.

“In Belgium I have to arrive at every race in a large mobile home many hours before the race begins. I would prefer to come to the race in my own car and just change clothes in the back seat. Or maybe I could have a mini van. Maybe the kind of van with the little TVs in the back seat. Then if my son visits, he will have something to watch before the race.”

He continued, explaining that he was also looking forward to travel opportunities in the US.

“We usually only must drive for an hour to get to each race, but on very bad roads. I am looking forward to preparing for races by spending many hours crossing the country in the comfort of a nice economy class seat on a 737.”

Nys added that the constant curiosity of fans, attention of reporters, and post-race television appearances were inconveniences scarcely offset by the appearance fees he received for racing in Europe.

“I look forward to driving in races whose total prize purse is significantly less than I make just for starting races in Europe,” he said. “It seems the Americans prefer to do away with the circus and race purely for sport. I am curious however about these beer and dollar hand-ups I’ve heard about.”

As the news reverberated through the ranks of professional cyclocross, reactions were overwhelmingly positive.

“I think it’s great that he will go beat up on the Americans instead of us for once,” said current Belgian Champion Niels Albert, continuing, “Is he coming back for the Belgian Championships? Because it will be a lot easier to keep this jersey if he stays in the United States.”

Meanwhile, a top American racer who asked not to be named said he considered it good for the sport that top Europeans were making the jump to racing in America, but added he was concerned about how Nys’ presence could affect the race dynamics.

“Nys isn’t really a cannibal, is he?” he asked. “Because I’m not sure I want to be next to him on the starting grid if he’s going to lean over and try to bite me.”