Endurance: Sven Nys

Despite hiccups, 'cross worlds a success

February, 4, 2013
CyclocrossChris Case/VeloNews.com The spectators at Louisville's Eva Bandman Park made themselves heard during Saturday's races.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It took some serious bailing out -- of more than one variety -- to do it, but the first UCI Elite Cyclocross World Championships held outside of Europe was an almost unmitigated success.

A team of more than 20 workers bailed out the waters along the banks of Badger Creek, working furiously to keep the worlds course at Eva Bandman Park dry during the condensed race schedule on Saturday. And only months ahead of the races, USA Cycling bailed out the event financially after original sponsor Exergy failed to meet its financial obligations to promoters late last year. The fallout from both debacles was fodder for critics ahead of the championships, but in the end, there were few complaints. Instead, the worlds was elevated by the energy and enthusiasm of the roughly 10,000 fans who lined the muddy, half-frozen course for six hours on Saturday.

"For me, (winning in the United States) is really special," said Belgium's Sven Nys, the first elite man to win a championship outside of Europe, and something of an elder statesman of the sport. "To win here is maybe more special than to win in my home country. Definitely, that's also something special, with maybe 60,000 people, while here there were maybe five, six, seven thousand. But I felt myself, the whole week, really, really relaxed. And the respect I got from everybody over here helped me a lot."

Nys' reaction to the outpouring of support was hardly unique. Racer after racer, most more accustomed to the cloud of silence that envelops anyone not at the front of the field in European races than the ebullient atmosphere of American 'cross, said the sheer volume along the course was overwhelming.

"It was unbelievable," said Amy Dombroski, an American rider for the Belgium-based Telenet-Fidea team who has spent most of her last two seasons overseas, after finishing 11th. "I'm kind of choked up right now. It was absolutely deafening; my ears were actually hurting. It was absolutely unbelievable racing here, and I think America really came out, so it was exciting. It was a big thing for America."

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Catching up with 'cross ahead of worlds

January, 2, 2013
Sven Nys, Niels AlbertDavid Stockman/AFP/Getty ImagesIs Belgian Niels Albert, right, on the verge of closing the gap on dominant countryman Sven Nys?
BRUSSELS -- The UCI elite cyclocross world championships open one month from today in Louisville, Ky., and with two weeks of non-stop Kerstperiode racing in the books, the road to the Ohio River is becoming clearer every day.

Nys stumbles, Albert, Pauwels step up

Two weeks and eight races ago -- though it might seem like much longer for anyone who has watched them all -- Sven Nys (Crelan-Euphony) was all but invincible. The Belgian champion had won eight of 12 races and had not finished off the podium since October. He extended his run of good results in the past two weeks during Belgium's ultra-intense Kerstperiode with wins in C2 races in Sint-Niklaas and Bredene, a World Cup win in Zolder and a second-place finish in Namur.

But even Nys couldn't maintain his perfect record through the last two grueling weeks. He finished fifth in Essen on Dec. 22, seventh in Diegem on Sunday, and abandoned his race in Loenhout shortly after leaving the course mid-race to admonish a spectator for repeatedly splashing beer on him as he rode past. Nys spent Tuesday, the day of his namesake race, in bed with an apparently serious case of bronchitis. Before missing the 14th edition of the GP Sven Nys, he had racked up 11 wins in Baal, his hometown, and had never finished worse than second. But the massively popular Nys is apparently human once again.

In his place, the three men who dominated cyclocross in seasons past found themselves returning to prominence. World champion Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) took wins in Loenhout and Diegem, Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Napoleon Games) was victorious in Namur and Baal, and two-time world champion Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) returned from the road to cyclocross and immediately snapped up five podium places. Stybar could have earned a victory in Essen as well, but was relegated for causing a collision with Jan Denuwaelare (Style & Concept) during that race's dramatic sprint finish.

The race forecast for the elite men at the worlds is, if anything, even more clouded than it was before. Only one question has been answered with any certainty these past two weeks: Stybar, despite showing impressive form from the moment he returned, will not make the trip to worlds.

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