BAAL, Belgium (VN) – Belgium closed out its busiest two weeks more or less the same way it has for more than a decade: with Sven Nys standing atop the podium here in his hometown race, waving to a crowd of thousands who have packed the muddy slopes of the low-slung Balenberg hill to cheer on a Belgian legend. Nys’ victory today was his eleventh in the race’s thirteen year history; he has never finished lower than the podium’s second step.
Perhaps it is fitting that the final podium of sport’s hardest period belongs to Nys, who has backed up his reputation as cyclocross’s most durable athlete with some 24 major series titles, seven national championships, and one year in the World Champion’s rainbow stripes.
“You come to Baal, it’s the first day of the year, you know that it’s a hard race and there’s a lot of pressure,” said Nys, whose win here was his third in two weeks. “When you can win by almost one minute, then you can say, ‘I’m mentally ready for the Belgian Championships.’’
Nys, kicking off the new year in a brand new light green kit, powered away from Klaas Vantornout during the second lap of today’s race and cruised from there to the finish. Afterwards, Nys said the unchallenged victory was a redemption after three consecutive third place finishes in Diegem, Zolder, and Loenhout during the core of the busy Christmas racing season — the Kerstperiode.
He added that for him, as for nearly every cyclocrosser in Europe, the season serves as a critical launch pad in the run-up to National and World Championship races.
“That’s the reason we go to Spain before the Kerstperiode, to do a lot of endurance,” he said, speaking for a number of Belgians who spend early December in better weather in southern Belgium. “Then we do one week of recovery and then you have the Kerstperiode, where you do a lot of high heart rate, with a lot of running, a lot of full power. So when you recover afterwards for a week, normally your condition will be really good for one month. Normally that’s what we all do, what we all have in mind, but not every rider has the capacity to do all the races and then not get sick.”
Nys, with a win two weeks ago in even more difficult conditions in the Namur World Cup and Friday in Leuven, emerges from the past two weeks as the clear favorite for the Belgian Championships in Hooglede-Gits next weekend. But Niels Albert, who took impressive victories in Diegem and Loenhout despite being hampered by a cold, said he also hopes to use this past two weeks as a springboard for another year in the Belgian Champion’s red, yellow, and black jersey.
“For the moment the condition is good,” said Albert, who has been regaining form after nearly a month on the sidelines after sustaining a broken wrist in a fall during training in November, after his win in Loenhout. “Now I won in Diegem, was eighth in Zolder — that wasn’t very good, but I was also a little bit sick there — and (in Loenhout) I won again. So we’ll see what I can do.”