In a gruelling display of endurance and skill, Thibau Nys emerged triumphant at the Koppenbergcross, braving the elements and the challenging course to claim victory. The 20-year-old Belgian rider showcased his prowess early in the event, breaking away in the inaugural round and maintaining his lead despite a tumble. This victory marks Nys Junior’s inaugural win in a race his father, Sven Nys, dominated nine times, solidifying his status as a prime contender for the upcoming European Championships on Sunday.
The men’s race saw a nearly full assembly of top competitors, with the notable exception of Laurens Sweeck. Right from the outset, the muddy ascent of the Koppenberg presented a formidable obstacle. Thibau Nys experienced a slip, forcing him to dismount and subsequently causing Michael Vanthourenhout to delay, resulting in him falling back to around twentieth place. Meanwhile, Lars van der Haar didn’t get off to a strong start either, and from tenth place, he watched Lander Loockx unexpectedly create a gap. Nys and teammate Pim Ronhaar were the first to bridge to Loockx, with Eli Iserbyt leading the chase pack just seconds behind.
By the onset of the second lap, Nys had already distanced himself from Ronhaar and Loockx. Vanthourenhout, after an impressive recovery, joined Iserbyt and Ronhaar, trailing Nys by around ten seconds. Iserbyt’s dynamic performance became evident as he powered up slopes where others were forced to dismount, yet Nys seemed to navigate the technical sections with ease, resembling an aquatic creature in its natural habitat.
The tension in the race heightened when Nys’s minor slip in a challenging corner reinvigorated Iserbyt and the pursuers’ hopes. As the third lap commenced, Iserbyt had Nys back within his grasp, closing the gap to twelve seconds.
An overly eager Iserbyt attempted to scale an uphill section without dismounting, but the steepness halted him, causing a brief retreat of his bike down the slope. This mishap reversed the momentum, granting Nys a 23-second lead once again. Iserbyt’s resilience shone through on the penultimate ascent of the Koppenberg, cutting Nys’s lead to less than twenty seconds by the final lap, with Van der Haar acting as Iserbyt’s sentinel, acknowledging the futility of pursuit barring any mishaps from Nys.
With the crowd’s vociferous encouragement reminiscent of the sport’s halcyon days, Nys maintained his position to the very end. On completing the arduous Koppenberg for the final time, Nys secured what might be the most treasured victory of his nascent cyclo-cross career. Crossing the finish line, he symbolically represented his family’s legacy with a gesture—ten fingers: nine for his father Sven’s victories and one to celebrate his own. Van der Haar surpassed Iserbyt to complete a joyous moment for the Baloise Trek Lions, leaving Iserbyt to settle for third place.
Nys, reflecting on his commanding performance, expressed a strange sensation during the muddy Koppenbergcross: “It felt like I was riding alone the entire time.” According to Maarten Vanhoof, Nys’s third win of the season at the Koppenbergcross in Oudenaarde was nothing short of a spectacle, a personal battle that he mastered splendidly. The victory not only adds to the Nys family’s illustrious history on the Koppenberg but also positions Nys as a formidable favourite for the European Championships. However, the young victor is focused on savouring this moment, remarking on the peculiarity of the slow race that allowed him time to reflect. Despite the upcoming championships, Nys is intent on enjoying the triumph of this season, stating a relaxed approach to the forthcoming event: winning would be gratifying, but not at the expense of his current contentment.
2023 Koppenbergcross Men result
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