Sven Nys had ridden his whole career with Rabobank but switched to the smaller Belgian Landbouwkrediet-Tonissteiner team at the beginning of this cyclo-cross season. This was largely because he wanted to take a proper tilt at the road in 2009, with the ambition of winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen right up at the top of his wish list.
A team change usually brings with it a switch in bikes, and getting used to the characteristics of a new frame can take some time. Not so for Nys. As luck (or design) would have it, his new team also rides frames made by Colnago so all the Belgian champion had to do was get used to a new colour.
Ernesto Colnago and Nys have enjoyed a fruitful relationship, which would have come to an end if Nys had stayed with Rabobank, who are switching to Giant for 2009. The Italian master builder created a frame especially for the Belgian called the “Cross Prestige”, but Nys prefers to stick to the machine that has carried him to so much success over the years, his custom-built C50.
Whereas most mortals enjoy a little comfort when riding off-road, racing at this level consists of a succession of bursts and acceleration so many top pros favour rigidity and responsiveness above all else. As such, Nys has his frame built from the stiffer reinforced tubing that the Extreme Power frame is made from instead of the standard C50 Cross’s more compliant ingredients.
Aside from the frame, there are a number of similarities between Nys’s bike from the last time we looked at it and now, but also a number of obvious differences. The standout change is the wheelset. Nys used a pair of Shimano Dura-Ace WH-7850-C50 carbon tubulars at Rabobank but Landbouwkrediet-Tonissteiner is sponsored by Mavic so he has a pair of the French company’s top-of-the-line Cosmic Carbone Ultimates instead – at least that was the case initially.
The team’s wheel sponsorship switched to Shimano on 1 January – just two days after we looked at Nys’s bike – leaving one less thing for the star ‘cross rider to think about. Though Nys’s race bike was obligatorily fitted with those Mavic wheels at the time, he confided that his spare bike was fitted with Shimano wheels so as to reacquaint himself with their characteristics in time for the big races of the new year.
Sub-zero temperatures in most of northern and central Europe over Christmas have meant most races have not been the typical mud pits and the only real obstacles in races like the Azencross have been manmade ones like bridges and steps,bumps and washboard sections. This has suited the characteristics of fast finishers like Fidea’s Zdenek Stybar (who won this particular race) rather than the strongmen like Nys and Stybar’s teammate Bart Wellens.
This frozen hardpack has also dictated the choice of tread – or lack of it – on Nys's ubiquitous 32mm Dugast tubulars as he has chosen the semi-slick Pipistrello tread rather than the usual Rhino or Typhoon knobbles. Larger diamond-shaped knobs on the edges still provide surer off-road cornering but the low-profile pattern down the middle yields far faster rolling.
Most of the rest of Nys’s kit will have been familiar to him from his old Rabobank bike, including the traditional bend of the 44cm-wide PRO handlebars. This season he has opted for the carbon fibre Vibe OS model, though, instead of the previous aluminium PLT, which is still held tight with a 120mm aluminium PRO PLT stem.
Also common to this and his previous bike is the Shimano groupset, except where there were hints of Ultegra on his Rabobank machine, this one is fully Dura-Ace, although the latest 7900 version seems to be taking longer to filter into cyclo-cross. Even a big star like Nys is still using the older 7800 version and by the looks of the wear on the outsides of the 172.5mm chainset arms, this is a well-loved example that will have earned its retirement when it eventually gets replaced by the newer version.
Nys continues to pair 46/39T chainrings with a 12-25T cassette despite the firmness of the ground and the relative flatness of the course. According to Nys, the 46T ring allows him to accelerate out of Azencross’s multitude of corners much more smoothly than if he had a bigger one. He did admit, though, that his spare bike was fitted with a 48T for use in the final lap to give him a slightly larger development in the event of a sprint finish.
Shimano may help Nys to power out of corners, but in the absence of a high-level cross brake from the Japanese company it’s down to TRP to slow him down on the way in. Carbon fibre arms, minimal aluminium bits and titanium hardware keep the company’s top EuroX Carbon cantilevers down to a claimed 109g per pair while their traditional high-profile configuration provides extra clearance at the rim during muddy races. Mavic-branded carbon-specific blocks (made by SwissStop) are fitted to the cartridge pad holders. Nys also continues on with a pair of familiar Shimano XTR SPD pedals.
Nys is lucky to have so much carryover equipment for a new team but he still has had to make adjustments in one critical area – he now has a Prologo Nago saddle to sit on, clamped atop an in-house Colnago seatpost in place of the previous Selle San Marco and PRO products.
The thaw that the strongmen (and women) of cyclo-cross had all asked for over the holidays has finally arrived in Europe so we are seeing races return to the usual format of one rider against another as they both battle the conditions, rather than the virtual bunch racing we saw over the turn of the year. Assuming this continues to be the case heading into the World Championships this weekend, we can expect to see the new green Colnago of Sven Nys to the fore in Hoogerheide.