FEB 2, 2013, LOUISVILLE, KY. By Phil Beckman/PB Creative — And the Oscar goes to…Sven Nys! Hollywood could not have scripted a more compelling tale than what unfolded at the 2013 World Cyclo-Cross Championships. After three years of pre-race buildup, followed by a potential climatic meltdown when it finally arrived, this story ended happily ever after as an instant classic. It was everything the most important CX event of the year should be, and more. We know drama.
The 36-year-old Nys is one of the most popular and decorated cyclocross racers ever, from the cyclocross Motherland of Belgium. Yet he had captured a world title only once, back in 2005. A year ago, right after the 2012 event, he announced his retirement from the sport. Upon further review he decided to give it one more shot, especially since the World Championship would take place outside of Europe for the first time in its 64-year history. Nys was a leading proponent of the sport’s expansion to Louisville, Kentucky, and felt he should see it through.
Then, in his final race, he achieved the sort of closure every athlete dreams of. Under rapidly deteriorating, snowy, muddy, devilish conditions, Nys put his legendary bike handling skills and experience to full use and rode away with another gold medal.
The Belgian team was heavily favored to seal the deal once again, but it was a matter of which Belgian would prevail. After all, the Belgians had swept the top seven positions in 2012. And when the gun went off at Eva Bandman Park to start the 2013 edition, it looked like it might happen again. The team’s robin’s egg blue colors were smothering the front of the field.
A few riders were given a chance to shine, such as Martin Bina (Czech Republic) and then Francis Mourey (France). But as the 2.78-kilometer course started to take its toll, Belgian blue (now stained bluegrass brown) came back to the fore.
With four of nine laps remaining, it was four Belgians crowding the top five positions. The Frenchman Mourey was hanging on for dear life with Nys, Klass Vantornout, Kevin Pauwels and defending champion Niels Albert sharing track space and a wide gap back to sixth place. Pauwels then started having drivetrain problems, eventually sentencing him to a distant 12th place finish.
A lap later the possibility of another Belgian sweep was developing, as Vantornout and Nys started to move away at the front with Albert still looking solid ahead of a charging Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands).
With two to go, under ever-increasing snowfall and falling temperatures (a winter storm advisory had been issued just before this race began), Nys and Vantornout had escaped to a 22-second lead ahead of Van Der Haar and a fading Albert. Nys made a couple of digs and noted their effect.
When Nys perfectly executed the most technical sections of the course on the bell lap, Vantornout was put into the red zone. And although he would charge back to within two seconds at the line, it was Nys with his arms in the air and a smile of a lifetime on his face.
Van Der Haar would claim yet another medal for Holland during this action-packed day, a bronze at 25 seconds. Bart Wellens (Belgium) came out of nowhere to claim fourth, while Germany’s Philipp Walsleben nipped Julien Taramarcaz (Switzerland) in a photo finish for fifth.
Top American in Louisville was Tim Johnson in 19th place at 3:20 back. Jonathan Page had held that honor for much of the hour-long race, but ended up 22nd. American hopeful Jeremy Powers had a difficult meet and ended his CX season in 25th at 4:16.
- Sven Nys (Belgium)
- Klass Vantornout (Belgium)
- Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands)