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Thibau Nys Q&A: The WorldTour rookie on carving his own path in cycling

VeloNews sat down with the 20-year-old to talk about learning from his dad, Sven, discovering himself as a rider, and why he likes to keep his racing bikes.

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Thibau Nys will make his debut in the WorldTour next season with plenty of fanfare and expectation.

The 20-year-old is the son of the two-time cyclocross world champion Sven Nys. He has been making a name for himself in the fields of Belgium, but he’s taking the next step in his career by exploring his capabilities on the road in 2023 with Trek-Segafredo.

Taking on the same sport as a highly successful parent can be a difficult challenge, but Nys is keen to carve his own path away from that of his father.

VeloNews sat down with him at Trek-Segafredo’s December training camp in Calpe last week to talk about learning from his dad, discovering himself as a rider, and why he likes to keep his racing bikes.

Also read: Highly touted Thibau Nys to join Trek-Segafredo

VeloNews: How does it feel to be a new team? Though, it’s not completely new.

Thibau Nys: I know the Trek family for a really long time and all the guys behind the team and the connection is a bit the same but, of course, it’s still a completely new environment. It’s still like a dream coming true. Every time I put on my [team] clothes in the morning, it’s good.

VN: What was it that made you decide to move to the road team for this year?

TN: Maybe not this year, but the next few years, I think the road program we did with Trek-Baloise was not quite enough to try and develop in the next couple of years. I think this was the right opportunity at the right moment and it will help me grow as a rider in cyclocross also and also on the road.

VN: Why did you want to make a road career?

TN: I have always been interested in the road, but the real interest only comes when you start booking results on the road. I did a really good first year as a U23, I won some races and then I made it to the selection of the Europeans and world championships. I won the European championships and had a sixth in the worlds and then we started feeling that maybe there is something possible on the road. It’s nice to achieve something in cyclocross, but when you can achieve something on the road is so much bigger, and it’s so much more than just the small cyclocross world.

VN: Do you have a favorite between cyclocross on the road?

TN: Absolutely not. At the end of the cyclocross season, I feel like starting the road again and the other way around. I wouldn’t be able to pick one. Cyclocross is still my first love and I think I will never be able to let go of that. But I want to discover the road also.

VN: What are you hoping for from the road next year?

TN: Next year is all about learning. I think we have to see it long-term. This year is all about learning and growing, getting to know myself a little bit more, also the team, and see where I can find myself the best, where my limits are, and which races suit me the best, which is also something I don’t really know for the moment. I showed some good things in a sprint but also on climbing courses, a bit of the classic types. It’s a bit difficult to say for the moment.

VN: Do you know where you’ll be starting your road season?

TN: Not sure. It’s possible to start in Nokere Koerse or Denain, but it’s not sure yet. Maybe it will take two or three weeks after, between the first and the second race. I will not do the classic season.

VN: I guess the cyclocross season is the big focus at the moment. How do you feel that’s going at the moment?

TN: I think I had a pretty good start in the cyclocross season, even better than I expected. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve not been super, I’ve been struggling a bit with my back. It’s nothing too serious. Something that can be resolved.

VN: Do you know what the issue is?

TN: I’m just a little bit too weak for the moment, I need to focus more on my core stability and my back training, and it will be gone soon.

VN: You have no worries that it will be an issue like Mathieu van der Poel?

TN: I don’t think it will be that bad. I just need to focus more on doing a job for my back and doing a lot of core exercises. The camp here is perfect to have two weeks off from cyclocross and have a small reset again. I hope I will be back in top shape for the Christmas period and the world championships.

VN: What’s your program after this?

TN: I will ride the 23rd in Mol, the 26th in Gavere, the 28th in Diegem, and January 1 in Baal. It’s some really busy weeks, and then the national championships and world championships. I think I’m in good shape.

VN: I’m sure you’ve been asked this question many times, but what is it like coming up as a young rider when you’ve got a parent who’s done so well?

TN: I just try to do my own thing and try to only think positive things about it. I learned a lot from him. It always brings a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations from the world and from the fans and media, but I just tried to do my own thing and not try to become the same or better. I am just trying to make my own name and do my own races.

VN: Do you think that moving into the road cycling scene will help you in that?

TN: Maybe, because he didn’t really ride on the road that much. I think it’s important to create my own name and not every time be connected to my dad.

VN: Do you still take advice from him?

TN: Of course, but on the other end, cycling has changed so much in the last couple of years. It’s kind of a different sport than it was 10 years ago, cyclocross and on the road, so sometimes he learns from me. But, he has so much great advice off the bike as well as on. He is still my teacher.

VN: Do you have many memories of him racing?

TN: Yeah, a lot. I can remember not his whole career, but especially the last years it was the weekly trip going to the races and riding my own bike near the course and watching the race and then coming back the day afterward we went again. It was my life for a really long period and I have some really good and clear memories of him when he was still a cyclist.

VN: Was that ability to go to the races all the time what fed your passion for cycling?

TN: I think so. I never saw something else. I grew up with it and I can’t imagine not doing it.

VN: Did you ever think of doing anything else?

TN: I played tennis for a long time. I was at quite a high level at my age in Belgium but at a certain point it was starting to get a little bit too much and I just wanted to ride my bike. The tennis part fell away and it has only been cycling from that point.

VN: On the road, do you have any races that you’re particularly looking forward to riding at some point in your career?

TN: I think the classic season. It will not be for this year, maybe not for next year, but we’ll see. I will try to work my way up in the team and hopefully get a good spot one day in Pairs-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders. I think those are, in my opinion, the most nice races to ride or to win. That’s my dream.

VN: A slightly off-topic question but do you remember what your first bike was?

TN: Yeah, I still have it. It was really small, it was brown, and it had a rack on the back to put a bag on it. We threw it all off and it was my first bike which I rode in the cyclocross races with my dad. My second bike was custom-made. I think I was three or four years old and they don’t have race bikes for three-year-olds. They went to a guy near town and they built a cyclocross bike for my size. It was super small, and I still have that one. It is the exact same colors as my dad’s race bike from that year.

VN: Why did you decide to keep them? Or was that your parents that decided to keep them?

TN: Both, I think, but mostly me. I hate to throw away bikes. I also have my world championships bike, my bike from my first year as a debutant, and my bike from the junior category, junior one and two. I tried to keep one bike from every year. That’s maybe something because I always found it a bit sad that my dad didn’t do that. When I find old shoes from him or old helmets or jerseys I always say, ‘oh, wow, this is cool.’ But he has way too less. So, I want to build a collection for when it would be possible to build a nice career. There are still a lot of memories from my career, and I try to keep one bike from every year.