Sven Nys was furious and that in front of our camera. Sven Nys, we feel for you. How could this happen? I have no words for this. Belgian team… I didn’t see any of that. If they rather see winning a dutch rider. Thank you Vanoppen. Thank you Wesley Vanderlinden. Beating me in the sprint for the 6th place. I made the race and at the end they took advantage of it. I can’t added anything to this. It’s the last thing that I did for the Belgian team. From now on I only think about myself and the rest can go f*** themself. In the beginning of the 90’s, cyclocross was dominated by the Italians, the Swiss and the Dutch. The only light in the dark for the Belgians was the World title of Paul Herygers. But in 1997 during the world championships in Munich, two young Belgian talents show themselves to the world. They will change the Cyclocross in Flandres for ever. At that moment to bunnyhop over these barriers in an Olympic stadion while thousands of people are watching… When I think about it I still feel goosebumps. Jerome, the uncle of Sven and an old cyclist, saw immediately the talent in his young nephew. He started biking when he was 2-3 years old and very soon he was able to ride without side wheels. And he immediately started doing tricks, liking jumping over my daughters while laying on the ground. His technique was immediately outstanding. The young Sven Nys was working as an electrician in the company of his father. But after this demonstration in Munich, his life changed completely. Two young riders who become world champion in the U23 category, so the future looked bright for us. Not only because they became world champion, but also because they showed something that the others were not able to do. If the pros couldn’t do these things. So that made that everybody was suddenly interested and this changed our sport completely. The wonderboy wanted to compare himself to the pros and he surprised everyone by winning his first cyclocross in Wingene. I almost never saw this before, there were 3 or 4 streams in each lap that we had to cross by foot. And he jumped over all of these obstacles. Me and Paul Herygers had to close the gap every time, and at some point you just know that it’s not possible anymore. Every time you lost 10 or 15 meters. He was 19, so you know that these will be a real competitor for the future… Sven Nys, for the second time in a row World Champion U23. The perfect race for him. When I became for the second time world champion U23, I realised that I should try to make it my job. I also had some offers from several teams. I went to talk to Palmans to try to get Sven Nys in our team. At that moment it was not that logic that you became a Pro in cyclocross. There were no cyclocross teams. So you had to integrate yourself in a road race team. I was about to sign for Topsport Vlaanderen. but than suddenly Jan Raes called me. At the perfect moment. At that moment Rabobank was a new team, with big names like Adri van der Poel and Richard Groenendaal. I told Sven: “we are going to ask for a good contract” He said: “we are never going to get that”
– “We’ll see” I went together with my uncle to the Crowne Plaza hotel in Antwerp. Jan Raes called someone, because it was a lot of money.
– it just happened like that in the coversation. I didn’t take more than 2 seconds. He looked at me. I said: “you should sign”
– So I left the hotel together with my uncle and a two-year contract. We left the hotel and he immediately called home: “prepare the Champagne” I joined a team with two top riders at that moment and I immediately felt good in that team. I remember, he received clothes and all the material he needed, it was like a whole new world for him. In the netherlands… they treated him like a football player. Sven Nys. The technique of Eric De Vlaeminck. The power and the appearance of Roland Liboton. An ideal mix. The face of an always smiling boy. The ideal son. Or not? A bad boy as a child. He used to destroy everything. Not a single bike that could survive him. Also the things of the other children. He used to break everything. I think that Rabobank gave Nys more certainties that he could be the rider he wanted to be. I think Jan Raes assured him he would not be just a helper of Groenedaal or van der Poel. The deal between Rabobank and Nys annoyed a lot of people. And many were jealous. Ruddervoorde 1998. In his new Rabobank shirt, Sven Nys wins the first race of the Superprestige. Thanks to the rivalry with his dutch teammates, he also wins the general classification. The following year he managed to outrank Richard Groenendaal with 20 victories and the victory in the national championships. The only thing missing is the first world title. A few weeks before the World Championships, Nys and Groenendaal have to fight a first battle in Tabor. The first time it was important was when we were fighting for the same victory. Groenendaal at that time was thinking more about these things than Nys. Nys was a little bit afraid of Groenendaal, but once he was racing, he forgot about that fear. I my first year at Rabobank I immediately won the superprestige. So it means I was at their level, so there was a battle between us, from the beginning. Very often with Richard, because he was in my team. They were good colleagues but not the best friends I think. Probably Groenendaal didn’t expect Nys to be that good. Because this forced him to be number two. When I lost against him, it was not a big problem for me. But when he lost, it was a problem for him. I think it says a lot about Groenendaal. He was always afraid to lose his position. I never had problems with that. If someone is better, it is like that. You can’t change it. In the world cup, I launched an attack and Groenendaal was chasing me. And when Groenendaal was attacking, I was chasing him. 50 minutes like that. Two riders, both their own ambitions. It results in a conflict sometimes. Are they never going to work together? So we were racing against each other, forgetting that the fastest of the three of us, is just sitting there and following. So he beats us at the end. I have to admit that it helped that they were chasing each other all the time. I think it’s logic that we both try to win the race. I think our sponsor is fine with it, that we both try to win the race. I saw during the race that they didn’t get along very well. Groenendaal and Van Der Poel and Groenendaal and Nys, it was not working. The next race was Zeedam. And the same happened. It was in the netherlands so Groenendaal was even more motivated. And Mario takes advantage of it, again. It would have been better if they let one of them win in Tabor and the other one in Zeedam. The frustration between the two of us was getting bigger and the world championships were coming. I think Nys didn’t do any work. I think I was the only one who did my part. You are saying that Nys didn’t do enough?
– He didn’t do anything. He also didn’t have to, he is the leader in the world cup.
– So he should have let me go. Zeedam showed that they were not getting along and that this would end badly. When I attacked at the end, Richard should just have let me go. It was very nice to beat them like that, and I knew that they would even be more frustrated. I think Nys was never thinking about talking to Jan Raes for the World Championships. But Groenendaal did. Jan Raes told us: in the world championships, if one of you is in the front, make sure that Mario has to close the gap, and not the other one of you two. If Jan Raes tells me this, I had to listen. Sven didn’t dare not to listen to Jan Raes. It was our income at that time. If Jan Raes asks for something, you are usually impressed by him. Even if you are already more mature. The speech of Raes didn’t miss his effect, but the days before the Worlds, the psychological game continued. If Nys attacks in the second lap and I’m feeling good, I will chase him. I’m not going to sacrifice my chances from the first lap on. If Declercq drops us, Raes can be furious, but it means that the best won. Who will be World Champion? I think that 99% of the people didn’t know what really happened there. I really thought I had a chance, because the circuit was perfect for me. There are two elements important: the talk of the board of Rabobank. They said: the battle between our riders is going to be a problem. This cannot happen. Let’s protect the one who has the best start. The second element was that it was a home race for Groenendaal. 10 minutes before the race, the organizers took a weird decision: they moved the barriers in the pitlane. I think only Groenendaal knew it. Me and Sven, we didn’t know that. Normally you had to run if you stayed on the circuit. But suddenly you were able to ride on the circuit, but we didn’t know that. At the pitlane, Mario is still in front of me. So I changed bikes, Mario is in front of me, and Groenendaal is gone. and the only thing that Mario does, is looking at me. And I thought: I’m not going to chase him. I warned you. I never heard that. Nys never said that he was not going to chase Groenendaal. And then he didn’t want to close the gap, I didn’t want to close the gap, so he was gone. We knew that it was hard for Sven not to obey the orders. Nys was not getting his money from the Belgian Federation. He was getting his salary from Rabobank… At that moment I was more a team player than a nationalist. Mario at that time was the big competitor. That championships followed the pattern of the commercial teams. Not the nation teams. The race was already lost after one lap. Why do they never ask: why didn’t De Clercq chase Groenendaal? De Clercq was more explosive than Nys. So for a short intensive effort, he was the man to chase him. There are always riders who try to outsmart the rest. If you are really good, you have to close the gap yourself. A world championship is one hour, if the biggest favourite attacks, you have to follow him if you can. If I close the gap, and Mario wins the rest, probably I would never be racing again for Rabobank, at least that was my feeling. I already lost the times against him in the previous weeks, so I didn’t want that to happen again. I warned him, so in the end we were just two stubborn people together. I told Sven: try to attack alone, if something happens with Groenendaal, you can win, and we get rid of De Clercq. Adrie told me I can attack, but I have to chase Groenendaal alone. What was he thinking? Nys tries to bridge the gap alone, but De Clercq doesn’t want to let him go. First De Clercq closes the gap and then he starts complaining at the finish line. I think Nys could go a bit faster, but not much. if De Clercq was really good, he should have lead the chase. They started to boo more and more. I didn’t realise it was because of Sven. I think Nys realised in that race that it’s also a national race. I didn’t want to work for him, so I was the bad guy, but he also didn’t want to work for me. Why did I have to work for Mario, and not the other way around? I thought he was trapped, but he trapped me. And they punished me for that. Every time that there was a camera, De Clercq turned around and started to make signs. At some point he just started to play a role. This was the hardest hour of my carreer. And De Clercq played a role there. Knowing it would make him more popular. Some people say: you knew where the cameras were. But I never checked that before any race. I never thought of that. iIwanted to become world champion. Everybody forgot during all these discussions in the following months, that the best rider that day, won the race. Because Nys asked to Groenendaal, can I chase him alone? he tried it, but couldn’t close the gap at all. Two riders didn’t get the recognition that they deserved that day. Groenendaal, although he was not my best friend. And they disrespected Nys completely that day. very incorrect. I remember seeing Groenendaal at the finish line and the only thing I did was… a simple sign. it was sad that it was on tv. The wink of the eye. Yes… that was probably too much for the fans. That was the biggest problem for the Belgian fans. Probably Sven even found that Groenendaal honestly deserved that day that victory. He deserved the victory because he was not only physically but also tactically the best. Those tears were not real. Sven was crying because everyone was angry at him. And De Clercq kept acting. I’m not such a good actor. I usually say what I think. And sometimes I should think a bit more. It was a really bad day. I asked Van der Poel if I could attack and he was fine with it. But he chased me, so i couldn’t continue. You are a broken man. I’m sure Mario De Clercq is an emotional person. I know his history, I know his father. Mario missed there the opportunity to win three in a row. How important were the team orders? – If they tell you that, you have to respect it, otherwise you are a coward. Now you are a coward for the Belgian fans. – Yes. It’s really hard for me. I hope they will understand me one day. If whole belgian finds you a traitor, how do you deal with that? Nys fools Belgians. Nys ruins Belgian Party. Nys lets Belgians I can tell you: it helps you to grow up. The next week I had to race in Lille. facing supporters of De Clercq. There were fans who burned their fan coats. People were sending me letters, threatening me… I was 20 years at that time. So at that time I was thinking the whole world was against us. Until my last season, there were always fans who were calling me dutchmen or swearing at me. Two days later Jan Raes came to Baal to talk to us. We went to our fan club in Baal. We explained the story to the fans that were there. And then little by little people forgot about it. Yesterday there was a little celebration in Baal. Sven Nys remains the hero for his fans. He was not the bad guy but the victim of the team tactics. Nys was more afraid for what was coming. The anger of the other Belgian fans. That’s the only thing I fear now. The other fans. But I have a good team around me. My fans and my family. They support me completely and that helps me a lot. I was crying, but Sven was also crying. He is still very young. And he will learn how to deal with this. But he is too nice. I think the summary of that whole race should be: “I couldn’t. We couldn’t.” I’m also not hating Mario. He thought the same as me: if Sven helps me, I can become World Champion. But I repeat, I still would not be able to live with that. Even more than at that time. Apart from Mario De Clercq, who is a nice colleague when I meet him at the races now I would not be able to live with myself. The failure of the World Championships left some wounds that were going to come back from time to time. During the races it was really Mario De Clercq and his followers against Nys and his. I remember a race in Wortegem Petegem close to his home. And he really threw his bike at me. Sometimes he was really aggressive And always close to the championships, it was getting worse. 2002. Although Nys has been dominating cyclocross for five years, he hasn’t been able to become world champion. At the world chmapionships in Zolder, it finally should happen. But he has to beat his big rival: Mario De Clercq. Mario was a very smart rider. He was just sharing the room with Nys to learn from him. He did it with me, he did it with Nys, he was really smart. He had a very nice carreer and he knew who he could use for certain things. It’s part of the sport. You always try to see who your main competitors are and how they react in certain situations. You could help Sven winning but make him lose, just by talking to him. it was easy to influence him, especially when he was very young. Mario was an expert in manipulating people and he knew how to destablize. De Clercq had besides his mental advantage, also another secret weapon: his team mate Tom Vanoppen Friends of me were organising it, I knew every meter, I had a special bike. Nothing could go wrong. I still think I was the best man in that race. Mentally, Nys could never beat De Clercq. The evening before the race, De Clercq and Vanoppen tried to intimidate the other other riders even more. The ice cream… After dinner we ordered an ice cream, and the others were watching: “how can they eat ic cream the day before the race?” Yes, we talked about it before. And then you saw immediately that the others didn’t know how to react. The empty bowl of ice cream also fell afterwards. I’m pretty sure that Sven was already mentally dying because of that. There was one steep hill that was very hard to get to the top. I planned to have one gear in the front, to take advantage of my power. And that’s where I wanted to make the difference. If there was still somebody able to follow, it would be impossible to win because my gear was not big enough. In the last lap we knew we had to be in front of Sven before the last hill. He took the risk to pass me between the two trees, that was very impressive. Nobody was even thinking about passing that tree on the right. But he knew it was his only chance. And he passed the tree on the right with 120% risk. I think I was in the front and they both passed me to be the first in the corner. I thought: “yes, for sure they crashed and I’m gonna be world champion”. And then I saw that they didn’t crash it was unique. Sport at the highest level. Do or die. What else could he do? At that moment I was stressing because I thought he was gone. So I had to take even more risks, but I think I did it quite good. Two years after Sint-Michiels Gestel they finally seemed to be friends again.