The finest cyclo-cross rider of his generation, Sven Nys, goes into Sunday?s World Championships with just one rainbow jersey in his locker and the woes of the world seemingly on his shoulders.
However, for the first time in years he is unencumbered by the weighty expection of his fervent Belgian fans.
Usually at this time of the year, the 31-year-old goes into the World Championship race with everything to lose. The hot favourite, on the back of another glittering season, it?s almost taken as read that he?s going to win.
But not this year.
Nys may have won four of the eight World Cup races this winter and he has an equally impressive strike rate in the Superprestige series.
The last month, though, has been little short of disaster for a man used to being at the very front.
His usually commanding lead in the UCI world rankings has been trimmed dramatically by Bart Wellens and Lars Boom and a poor result this weekend could see him slip off the top for the first time in years.
To make matters worse, the Worlds will be on a course that, at first glance, looks to be Nys? nightmare. It?s likely to be dry all week, meaning a fast, hard track in Treviso, Italy, offering little opportunity to make his technical ability show.
Add to that Nys? shocking record at the World Championships and it?s little wonder the bookies make the exciting Dutchman Lars Boom the man to beat.
Boom won the under-23 title last year and is strongly fancied to win the elite race.
Nys thrives on adversity, though. Just look at the way he fought back from an early fall in Koksijde to thrash the field.
Treviso is not Koksijde, though, and with all the factors counting against Nys, the bookmakers are still not being overly generous.
As for an outsider, look for Francis Mourey of France, who won last year?s World Cup race on this course, or the home favourite, Enrico Franzoi.
Lars Boom: the bookies’ favourite for the world cross title. Photo by Luc Claessen
| THE LATEST BETTING
Lars Boom 2.85
Sven Nys 3.00
Bart Wellens 4.5
Francis Mourey 5.5
Erwin Vervecken 15
Enrico Franzoi 35
Sven Vanthourenhout 35
prices from Unibet.com
|07-08 WORLD CUP WINNERS|
Kalmthout: Zdenek Stybar (Cze). Nys 2nd
Tabor: Sven Nys (Bel)
Pijnacker: Lars Boom (Ned). Nys 5th
Koksijde: Sven Nys (Bel)
Igorre: Sven Nys (Bel)
Hofstade: Sven Nys (Bel)
Liévin: Lars Boom (Ned). Nys 8th
Hoogerheide: Lars Boom (Ned). Nys 12th
|SVEN?S NEAR MISSES|
Sven Nys won the under-23 world titles in 1997 and 1998. But success has largely eluded him at elite level when it comes to the World Championships. For such a prolific rider one rainbow jersey ? won in 2005 ? seems scant reward.
1999 Poprad, Slovakia
Sixth on his elite debut with Mario De Clercq taking gold and Erwin Vervecken silver.
2000 Sint-Michielsgestel, Holland
Controversial race as Nys refuses to chase his Rabobank team-mate Richard Groenendaal, despite the fact the Worlds is run as national teams. The problem is, Groenendaal?s a Dutchman and his refusal to chase was unpopular with Belgian fans. De Clercq as to do all the chasing, to no avail. Groenendaal wins, Nys can find little pleasure in his bronze medal.
2001 Tabor, Czech Republic
Misses out on a medal, taking fourth. De Clercq takes the title.
2002 Zolder, Belgium
A bronze medal behind De Clercq.
2003 Monopoli, Italy
Finishes a disappointing fifth on a course that does not suit him. Bart Wellens wins.
2004 Pontchateau, France
Pulls out with cramp and has to watch as Wellens wins the title for Belgium.
2005 Saint-Wendel, Germany
At last Sven Nys wins the world title, beating fellow Belgians Vervecken and Sven Vanthourenhout.
2006 Zeddam, Holland
Crashes out, leaving the way for Vervecken to take his first world title.
2007 Hooglede-Gits, Belgium
Finishes only 11th on home soil, 2-04 behind the winner. However, Belgium does get a home victory, thanks to Vervecken.
|THE COURSE IN TREVISO|
Former world champion Adri Van der Poel of Holland has designed the 3,250-metre lakeside course in Treviso.
It consists of just over two kilometres of grassyland, 730 metres of asphalt and 450 metres of gravel. It?s a fairly flat course with just a few lumps and bumps.
?It?s a trail that will reward the complete rider,? he said. ?I know some of the Italian riders have already tested the course and they were worried it will be too fast. In my opinion they have no reason to worry.?
If the weather is fine, as it?s forecast to be this weekend, it could be a very fast course ? a far cry from last weekend?s mudfest in Hoogerheide.
British hope: Paul Oldham
Elite men: Paul Oldham, Rob Jebb (Sunday)
Elite women: Helen Wyman, Gabriella Day (Sunday)
Under-23 men: Ian Field, Mark Thwaites (Saturday)
Junior men: Alex Paton, Andrew Williams, Hamish Creber, Sebastian Batchelor (Saturday)