International Cyclocross Man of the Year: Sven Nys
For Sven Nys, considered by many to be the greatest cyclocross rider in history, the sport’s greatest prize — the world champion’s rainbow-striped jersey — had long remained elusive.
Despite his post as the most consistently successful rider in the sport, Nys had won only a single world title throughout his illustrious career, in 2005, at Sankt Wendel, Germany. Year after year, he would prove dominant during the World Cup and Superprestige seasons, only to fall short on the day it counted most.
Nearly a decade after his first title, Nys claimed a second rainbow jersey. Fittingly, given the status of the 37-year-old as the elder statesman of cyclocross, and his dedication to promoting the growth of the sport globally, it was also the first elite men’s championship title ever awarded outside of Europe.
“For me, it’s really special,” he said in a post-race press conference. “I’m not the youngest anymore. I try to do a lot for international cyclocross all throughout the year, to promote our sport. And to win here is maybe more special than to win in my home country.”
For someone from the motherland of the sport, Belgium, those are powerful words. Nys’ ascent to the pinnacle of the sport is driven by the wild support of legions of fans in his home country, where he has near-royal status. But it is also driven by his prodigious consistency, which itself derives from his ability to deliver big results in almost any conditions and at any time of year. That consistency has netted him dozens of major series wins, eight Belgian national cyclocross titles, and some 300 individual wins.
His 2012-13 campaign was no different. He claimed three stops on the World Cup tour, took his 12th Superprestige title while winning five rounds of the series, and claimed victory in another nine races throughout the season. Then, he topped off another amazing season with the icing on the cake — a second world title, in the mud in Louisville, Kentucky, of all places.
North American Cyclocross Woman of the Year: Katie Compton
In 2013, nine-time U.S. cyclocross champion Katie Compton did something no American before her had achieved: She won the cyclocross World Cup title.
Having finished first or second in every event she started in the top ’cross series, the Colorado Springs resident rolled into the world championships in Louisville, Kentucky, one of two five-star favorites for rainbow stripes.
Unfortunately for the 34-year-old, the other top contender was Marianne Vos. The unstoppable Dutchwoman had all the answers on that snowy day in Kentucky, but the silver medal hanging from Compton’s neck on the podium was a success — not the hollow disappointment it had been two years earlier in Germany.
“It’s true, this year’s worlds was, in a lot of ways, a best-case scenario for me, and I’m just hoping at some point it’s all going to come together,” Compton said at the time. “At this point, if [a world championship victory] never happens, it never happens. It’s obviously a goal of mine, and something I’d love to do, but being a consistently strong cyclocross racer, and winning, a lot, is good too. Second place is my worst result all year.”
Compton didn’t race often in the U.S. during the 2012-13 season, but when she did, she was untouchable. She swept the six rounds of the U.S. Gran Prix that she contested, as well as the three-day Cincinnati festival, and returned from Europe for the national championships in January, where she was the class of the field on a freezing, slick course in Wisconsin.
So dominant was Compton — even when riding in the pack early in races, for practice — that the domestic events she entered were more interesting for their battles over the lower podium positions.
In Europe, she won World Cups in Plzen, Koksijde, Roubaix, and Namur, and was second in Tabor, Zolder, and Rome. Never before had an American enjoyed a run like this in cyclocross. If there were any debate previously over which American rider, man or woman, had most dominated the discipline, Compton silenced it in Rome when she locked up the white World Cup leader’s jersey she’d worn almost all season.
Despite all of her regular-season success, the question of the world championship comes up every year. Demonstrating her experience and maturity, Compton quieted that talk in Louisville. Would she like to win the title? Of course. If not, will she look back on a satisfying career? Yes. When she does take time to reflect on a career that represents the high-water mark for North American cyclocross, Compton’s historical ride through the 2012-13 season will likely stand above any others to date.
North American Cyclocross Man of the Year: Jeremy Powers
Jeremy Powers may have failed to defend his national title — and he certainly came up short of his own expectations at the world championships in Louisville, Kentucky — but those shortcomings were his lone disappointments in a 2012-13 season that saw him continue an upward trajectory that has him on the verge of a European breakthrough.
Powers blasted into the season, winning at Clif Bar CrossVegas, the Sun Prairie Cup, Gran Prix of Gloucester, and Providence Cyclocross Festival. In October, he registered the best World Cup result for an American elite man, with seventh in Tabor, and returned to the U.S. to dominate the Derby City Cup and Smartwool Cup. Powers won every race he targeted — and every C1-ranked event he started — before the end of 2012.
The Rapha-Focus captain had long been one party to a five-man feast atop the U.S. elite ’cross circuit, alongside Tim Johnson, Ryan Trebon, Jonathan Page, and Todd Wells. In 2012, however, Powers logged a run of results that clearly set him apart.
Does he remain beatable? Yes. He revealed that in Chicago and Wisconsin in January — and again at the 2013 Colorado Cross Classic, where he dropped a chain early and fought through the entire 70-plus-rider field for second.
But, does he now enter every race on home soil as the top favorite? Emphatically, yes, and that, in itself, justifies his three-year reign as our North American Cyclocross Man of the Year.
Powers did not have his perfect season one year ago, but was still far and away the most dominant force in the elite men’s ranks when racing stateside. The fact that he is retooling and looking at ways to push his ceiling even higher is an indication that the 30-year-old from small-town Connecticut almost certainly hasn’t made his final appearance in the pages of our Awards issue.