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Nys, the ‘Cannibal from Baal’ knows no curse

The 37-year-old Belgian cruises to victory at CrossVegas

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LAS VEGAS (VN) — The curse of the rainbow jersey? Not a chance.

In the City of Second Chances, Sven Nys set all superstition aside in his debut performance, handling the pressure — and bad luck — that can come with carrying the most coveted stripes in cycling to take his second victory on American soil, in two attempts.

Of course, it all began seven months ago in Louisville, Kentucky, where Nys (Crelan-Euphony) captured a second world title in the muck and mire of a flooding Eva Bandman Park. The atmosphere of the race and the action on the track will go down in history as some of the most influential ingredients in the evolution of U.S. cyclocross.

CrossVegas certainly has its place in the sphere of global significance as concerns the growth of the formerly Eurocentric sport. Nys’ pilgrimage to the desert is but another step in that evolution.

And his return to the U.S. was as successful; though conditions were markedly less Belgian — muck and mire were substituted by mild temperatures and a moonrise start time. By the end of the evening, the world champion, the king of ’cross, the “Cannibal from Baal,” ate his enemies alive.

“I’m really proud to wear this jersey, and to come back to the states in the biggest ’cross race of the year here, that’s important for the sport overall, but it’s also nice to have that feeling and to bring that jersey back to the states. It’s definitely a special moment,” Nys said before the race, sitting beside his rented RV in an anonymous corner of the Desert Breeze Soccer Complex in the Las Vegas suburbs.

“It’s a fast race,” he added. “Five or six guys could win this race. It’s not as if because I’m the world champion I’m going to win this race. When it was so easy, I’m not as nervous as I am right now. We’ll have to see who is the strongest today.”

It didn’t take long to understand who was that strongest man.

His poker face remained, while Nys’ legs did the gambling and won big. Ryan Trebon ( smiled wildly while riding the coattails of the champ, but he would eventually fade, unable to maintain the Belgian’s wicked pace. Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) showed power, but left his charge too late, coming in second to the reigning king.

It was fitting to see the champ on top of the podium, since he was in the same spot the only other time he stepped on American soil. He’s 37 now, and though he hinted at retirement before committing to riding through the Louisville worlds, he’s now less ambiguous.

“It’s not my last year. I talked about it and my contract was finished and normally I’d [stop] at the end of this season, but I want to ride for another year — I have the motivation and I feel strong — so there’s a possibility to do it and I want to grab it,” Nys said.

“I’d like to be an athlete overall; that’s my biggest motivation, not the titles, the big victories, but to stay a good athlete, to ride my bike because that’s what I like the most. I’m really motivated to have good results, of course, but when you’re still on your best in your 37th year, then there is no thinking about stopping at this moment.”

He and Sven Vanthourenhout will remain teammates, retaining Crelan as a sponsor, though Nys would not confirm rumors that he will ride for Trek in 2014 out of respect for his current bike provider, Colnago.

He’s taken 12 Superprestige overall titles, eight overall titles in the GvA series, and eight Belgian national titles, along with 46 World Cup victories. How does he keep going after dominating the sport for so long?

“Sometimes I’ve thought about it and I don’t know,” Nys sad. “I’ve been a professional for 15 years now, I’ve won a lot of races and a lot of titles. It’s a world that I want to be in. When you see what happens over here [in the U.S.], with this jersey, why should I not stay in this world? It’s really fun to be over here.”

The world thanks Sven Nys for staying in the game.