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ZOLDER, Belgium (VN) — Sunday’s elite men’s world championship race will be the last for Belgium’s undisputed heavyweight champion of cyclocross, Sven Nys. Though Nys has won only two world titles in his career, he is arguably the most successful rider in the history of the sport. At 39 he will retire this year and take over the Telenet-Fidea team, which he and a group of backers purchased in December.
VeloNews caught up with Nys on Friday to talk about his feelings ahead of his final championship race, his Belgian team, and how to beat race favorite Mathieu van der Poel.
VeloNews: What are your emotions ahead of the race tomorrow? It’s your final world championships.
Sven Nys: Well there are not many emotions for the moment. It feels like it’s a normal world championships for me, and maybe that’s a reason that I feel it’s OK that I’m going to retire. For the moment, I don’t feel anything different than the years before. It’s just business as usual, that’s what I feel. It’s crazy, but it’s like this.
VN: How do you feel about your preparation for the race?
SN: For me, it was really important to have two really good results the last two World Cups, in France and in Holland, and that was not what I got. So it’s, mentally, not ok to have that result two weeks before the worlds.
But maybe I was a bit tired. I had the most races during the the Christmas period, and a race before France in Zonnebeke. So maybe that’s the reason.
I trained also maybe a little bit too hard the days before Hoogerheide. And I felt that the basic condition is OK, but my explosion, my power was not there. And if you can rest three, four days after Hoogerheide, then you feel that it’s coming back a little bit. And that’s what I need to have a good result in Zolder.
So, okay, we’ll see. It would be better that I had a good result in Hoogerheide, but it’s like this, and it’s okay.
VN: What do you hope for on Sunday?
SN: I hope that I have the feeling that the power is in my legs, that I can have one hour full gas, full power, and then I can have a result like I had during the season: going for the podium, going for the top five. I think that is possible when I have my maximum capacity.
VN: Can you be satisfied when you don’t win?
SN: Definitely. I think that you see during the season that there are two guys who are stronger than us. I beat Wout in Koksijde, but it’s a completely different track. When we could race today on a track like Koksijde, then it’s different, then there could happen many more things than here in Zolder. It’s more technical, it’s more — when you have stress over there you can make so many mistakes. Here that’s completely different.
Okay, it’s going to rain, and that helps me a bit. But we’ll see. I’m ready for the race, and I’m going to do my best to have a good result.
VN: Mathieu van der Poel is the big favorite. You’re about to take over the Telenet-Fidea team and be a team manager. What would you tell your guys to do tactically to try and neutralize Mathieu?
SN: Stay as long as possible in his wheel. Don’t work. Let him do the work because he is the big favorite. And then he’s going to be nervous. And in the other way, when there is a problem with Wout in the beginning of the race and he loses a lot of places, another guy from our country needs to help him. Definitely on the road, so he can sit out of the wind and come back a few seconds, that’s going to help him. He’s going to recover a bit, and maybe he can take a place again in the first group.
So, it’s not so difficult. You need to follow Mathieu, but don’t work with him. Let him do the work. Then he’s going to be nervous and then you can do something.
VN: Do you think the Belgians can work together as a team, or do you think ego and ambition could get in the way of that?
SN: In cyclocross, it’s not so easy to work together. But if there is a problem, you can help each other. And mentally, that helps the rider who is in really good shape.
You can’t say, ‘Okay, we’re going to ride in a group, Belgians, and we’re going to create a strong group that goes to Mathieu. That’s not possible, that’s not cyclocross. But on the other hand, if there is a problem, you can help each other. And if you know that that there are guys from the same country who are going to help you, mentally that’s important.