He still remembers it to this day. It was early 2014 and he was standing on the fence watching one of the most amazing battles the cyclocross world championship has ever seen. Soaked and frozen, he crossed his father’s fingers against Zdenek Štybar in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands.
In vain, the Czech rider defeated his big brother and became world champion for the third time.
Thibau Nys, son of the famous Sven, was 11 at the time.
“Since I was a child, I went to races with my father. When I could, I stood by the side of the track and cheered him on. Fortunately, he won a lot,” laughs the 20-year-old. “And now the roles are reversed.”
2014. Zdeněk Štybar aims for the cyclocross world champion title, followed by the Belgian gold medalist Sven Nys.
Dad is now behind the money and is watching the first successes of his offspring. Sven actually has a triple role in his son’s story. He is a father, also a coach and mentor, sometimes a mechanic. Nys and Nys, that is the past, present and future of cyclocross.
And it is not an extraordinary thing.
Merckx, Zabel, Backstedt, Van der Poel, Van Poppel, Knetemann, Roche, Dekker, Knaven. All big cycling names from history that had or have successors. And they often find themselves under disproportionate pressure, they are under careful scrutiny.
“The fact that he’s my son has a lot of advantages for Thibaut,” says the legendary Sven. “But of course there are downsides to it that people often don’t see.”
The son has something to follow up on
Thibau was in the center of the action from an early age. The Nys family has been in the spotlight for years in cyclocross-crazy Belgium. Parents’ divorce, first kilometers on a bike, first races, girlfriend. Everything he does is under scrutiny in the Kingdom of Belgium.
The DNA Nys documentary series is even being created about the family, which already has four series.
“The media has been around me since I was a child. I don’t even know any other life, I have nothing to compare it to. I can’t tell if it’s good or bad. It was definitely harder for my girlfriend to come to terms with,” says the young cyclist.
He himself always fought bravely with interest and huge expectations. Already in juniors, he became world champion. Last season he won almost everywhere he started, he also won the under-23 world title. And now he has flown into the adult category.
He dominated the very first World Cup race of his career – he reigned in Waterloo. He also won the tough Koppenbergcross last week, which was a touching moment. His dad just won nine times here. This is also why Thibau symbolically showed all ten fingers when crossing the finish line.
“I’ve been wanting to do it ever since dad won here the last time. I dreamed about it, and did it work? Incredibly. A day I will never forget,” he smiled.
At the same time, no one ever pushed him to cyclocross, no matter how it sounds. “It wasn’t a necessity. I even played tennis at a fairly advanced level, but cyclocross was always my first love. I’ve been drawn to him since childhood. I never wanted a tennis career, but a cycling one,” he says clearly.
That they compare him to his dad and always will? That’s just how it is with sports families, it’s natural, Thibau expects it and can cope with it. Although, of course, it has something to follow up on.
Dad is a two-time world champion, seven-time king of the World Cup, nine times the champion of Belgium.
2013. Belgian cyclocross rider Sven Nys becomes world champion in Louisville, USA.
“There is huge pressure on him, but results are not the most important thing. Mainly to have a nice career. Hopefully, he will take away important life values from our sport – he will learn to work with setbacks and losses, with jealousy, learn new languages, teamwork. Those are far more important things than titles. And no school will teach you that,” says Nys the elder.
His son has understandably already had unsuccessful races and fiascos. For example, the European Championship in Pontchâteau did not finish at the weekend. “But he quickly came to terms with it, put it behind him, which I admire. I myself was able to get rid of negative things in my career much later than he did,” admits dad.
While Thibau is at the beginning of his career, Sven likes and often thinks about his past. And he has only one wish for his son.
“So that he doesn’t regret anything. If I had to do my entire career over again, I would want it to be exactly the same. I can only advise him, but he is a grown man, he makes his own decisions and has his own path ahead of him,” she says.
How successful will it be?