MEERBEKE, Belgium (VN) — Never give up.
That was Nick Nuyens’ motto during the Tour of Flanders, but it also applies to his career.
After two discouraging years at Rabobank, Nick Nuyens claimed the biggest win in his nine years of professional racing Sunday at De Ronde Van Vlaanderen. His ascension to Belgian cycling’s highest honor came less than two weeks after his victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen, the Belgian semi-classic that translates to “Across Flanders.”
“Never give up,” Nuyens said. “It’s one of the key phrases. Today was not my best day. Every time there was a crash, I was behind it. I crashed myself at one time. At many times today I was very far from the front.”
But when push came to shove — and the racing came down to an onslaught of fierce attacking and counterattacking — Nuyens found himself in contention.
“I didn’t feel that well, but then suddenly when we were on the Muur (Cancellara and Chavanel) were 100 meters in front of us,” he said. “Then I thought, maybe the race can start again.”
Nuyens went over the Bosberg, the 18th and final climb of the day, in a group with George Hincapie and Tom Boonen, behind Gilbert and the first five-man chase. The Nuyens group linked on with less than 10km to the finish, and the field leveled.
“I knew that once we caught them that anyone could win,” he said. “Because when you don’t have any more climbs, it’s all tactics. That’s something that I really like. It’s the best part of cycling, that you can play a game.”
New team, new confidence
Nuyens had won Flanders before — in the under-23 competition back in 2002, the same year he took the national U23 title. He turned pro with Quick Step in 2003, and continued to progress, notching wins at the semi-classic Omloop Het Volk as well as Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and GP de Wallonie. He joined Cofidis in 2007 and placed seventh at the Tour of Flanders. After a career-best second place at the 2008 Flanders, he appeared to be on an upward trajectory.
Then he went dark.
Sickness in 2009 left him off-form for the spring races so critical to Belgian cycling. He rallied for an eighth place at Amstel Gold, but that was his only result of the year while riding for Rabobank.
“(That) year it was just follow, follow, follow,” Nuyens told VeloNews last year.
The 2010 season was worse. After crashing three times at the E3 Prijs Harelbeke the weekend before Flanders, Nuyens started but abandoned Flanders.
“Just stopping in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a car, that is hard as a bike rider,” Nuyens said. “I thought about it today. But today I was in the first group.”
To add public insult to personal injury, Nuyens was called out in the Belgian press for a lack of performance, with only a stage win of the Tour of Austria to show for his entire 2010 season.
“It wasn’t always easy to handle the criticism from the outside. I can handle a lot, but when the criticism keeps on coming and coming, it was too much,” he said.
Then came the call from Saxo Bank boss Bjarne Riis.
“Bjarne called my agent and said that he wanted to work with me. There was no discussion of money or anything. He told my agent that he’s won semi-classics, but he can do more,” Nuyens said. “When a man like Bjarne talks like that, it immediately gives you confidence. Then there were just some small things that he said at training camp gave me more confidence.”
Ironically enough, it was Cancellara who gave Nuyens the confidence to move to Saxo Bank.
Under the tutelage of the Danish tactician, Nuyens has changed his training and racing schedules. For example, this year he skipped the opening weekend of the Flanders Classics, which he said left him hungry for racing.
“You can compare it to a little child that likes ice cream and is looking forward to getting it,” Nuyens said. “For me, I was looking forward to racing in Belgium again.”
Nuyens is skipping Paris-Roubaix — he’s allergic to the dust, he says — but he is looking forward to Amstel Gold later this month.