Nick was relaxed talking to PEZ at the recent Garmin-Sharp training camp but he is super focused on having a good season for 2013.
Nick Nuyens is a “Super Classics Man” out of the Flemish mould that has given us so many hard road men over the years. But the man from Lier, in the province of Antwerp, has had more bad luck in the last year than most riders have in a career. After a crash in Paris-Nice his 2012 season was nearly non-existent. So we started with his problems first:
PEZ: How is your fitness after your injury?
Nick Nuyens: I’m still on my way back. First I crashed in the beginning of March and at that time I didn’t have surgery and I felt really good; well good enough and then in the beginning when I was back in the races it was really hard, I thought it was because I had been out for a while. I had good condition, but I couldn’t use the power I had, so after a while I thought I had better go for another check-up and they say that the bone was not attached, still open one and a half centimetres, it was still disconnected. So they pinned it, to connect it back together and now I am in normal condition again, but they had to cut the muscle to reach it, so there is still more work. Everything is good now, but the muscle is weak now on the left side, you can’t force it, so I’m working a lot with the physio and in the meantime I can do my training and I’m on schedule with condition.
Nick hanging out with another Classic’s winner in the team, Johan Vansummeren
PEZ: Do you feel that weakness?
Nick: Yes, in the knee also, during a training ride when you push on the pedal you use more the right leg, your mind is used to using the left leg more than now, so I really need to focus on both legs and that helps.
PEZ: Did you have doubts at any time that maybe you wouldn’t come back?
Nick: Of course, that’s normal. I knew it would be a hard time to come back, because once you are in the season and you are out for two months your form might not be good again that year. I rode the Tour and after I felt in good condition, you know your body and the power you have, but you can’t use it, so that was really frustrating. I also needed treatment before because I already have a weak back from the past and now the right leg got weaker and you push on one leg, more or less, and then the back goes out and you miss the power of pulling up, so then you think of the poor stability and you focus on that and you train even more. Actually what happened was, I was walking with my foot like that (at an angle), the day after surgery I was lying in bed and the specialist came to me and I told him that my leg was in the same position is was before. And then you hope and have motivation, but I know I can’t lose any more time.
PEZ: Did you watch last year’s Tour of Flanders on TV?
Nick: Yes I was commenting for a TV station in Belgium, they asked me, so why not.
PEZ: Was that hard?
Nick: Of course, but I also like cycling and I like to watch cycling. I was in good shape and wanted to be there, a real strong feeling that you want to be there defending your title, yea it was a big disappointment. But at that moment I was already OK with it, the hardest moment was when I had to stop at Paris-Nice, because I knew that even with a few days of rest I wouldn’t be in condition for the Classics. So that was really hard to handle.
PEZ: Was that hardest point for you?
Nick: When I had to stop the first time because that’s when it all started. I knew it was really important to finish Paris-Nice, but we were in the neutralised zone and I could hardly follow the bunch, then I knew it was something bad.
PEZ: What were you thinking in the finale of Flanders the year you won?
Nick: In the last 10K I was a little bit behind the first group because it split up and it was about 10 seconds or whatever and everyone was still going. And then when we got together it was like a game and that’s what I like the best in the final. I know I’m the best guy in that situation, I look at the group, the combination, playing the game and all that, I just love it. I know I’m good at it and I also know who I have to watch.
Nick taking his big win at the 2011 Flanders.
PEZ: At what point did you start to think you were going to win?
Nick: 300 metres before the line when I was making my sprint. Before that I knew because when he attacked I suffered so much to close on the wheel, to close just those 5 metres, I looked behind just before and the others were 30/40 metres behind, so at that point I knew because if I can close just like that, well that’s a good sign. But I also knew I had to make it and then I had a good chance to win it because I knew I was faster than both of them, although you never know after a long day, but you just never know, eh! I also know I am fast from a small group and after a hard race and I couldn’t see Chavanel or Cancellara, but you know it can be a strange thing.
The last 5K of Nuyens 2011 Flanders win.
PEZ: What did you think of the new circuit finish of last year’s Flanders?
Nick: I didn’t race so it’s hard to talk about it, but I think it’s nice for the crowd, for the organisation it’s quite good I think.
PEZ: What about the loss of the Muur and the Kapelmuur?
Nick: It’s a shame it’s not there anymore because we all know it by that, but things change and the new generation won’t know it, so I think we need to give it a little bit of time, you can’t judge after one edition. I think it was a nice race, maybe a different race, a better race. The riders say it’s harder, I think it’s more harder in your head, there is still the Kwaremont and Paterberg, but they didn’t race each time on these hills, before you also couldn’t race all the time or you would be f#$@ed after 200K!
PEZ: Boonen has won on the old and the new course.
Nick: All the top riders are always there, and again this year, the course isn’t going to change that.
PEZ: What kind of training are you doing now (mid-January), just hours or have you started any intensive work yet?
Nick: Yea, I need to do that if I want to be there and I’m capable of doing it and I can handle it. I need to visit the physio at least two times a week to be sure that I get the most out of the training. Like I said I feel I’m on schedule with my condition for the right leg, the left is nearly there.
Pre-season training with his new Garmin-Sharp teammates.
PEZ: So 2013, do you know what you will do after the Classics?
Nick: We haven’t really discussed my program yet, maybe the Tour or the Vuelta. We will see, the Vuelta has its eleven summit top finishes it’s getting harder and harder, especially for riders of my style; we maybe, maybe, if we are lucky, have two or three opportunities. There are other nice one day races that month, like in Canada and the Worlds, even though it’s really hard this year.
PEZ: What is the future for Nick Nuyens?
Nick: My biggest concern is to come back at the level I want, once I’m there I’ll start to think about what I can do.
PEZ: You’re 33 in May, so how many more years will you race?
Nick: I always said at 35, “we will see year by year.” At 34 I think I can do two more years, you have to consider many things; how you feel, if you still like it, you have to look at the performance, the motivation, the team, the contract, and all those things. But now it is getting closer, 35 is really close, only two more years; I like it a lot. I was out too many times last years with the break in the hip and the hand, collar bone, whatever. So every time I came back I came back at the same level and as long as I am able to do that then I’ll carry on.
PEZ: What about the future of cycling, with all the Armstrong stuff and everything?
Nick: I think nobody knows.
PEZ: What about him appearing on American National TV, that’s very big. It might be old news to people in cycling, but this was for an audience of non-cycling people who are maybe not as knowledgeable about cycling. Is that a good or a bad thing?
Nick: I don’t think you can say it’s a good thing, of course. To be honest I don’t know what to say about it, because; first of all I know the same things you and the other people do and so it’s pretty hard to judge or talk about it, but it’s not a good thing for cycling and it’s not a good thing that people focus on doping in cycling. There are always people who try to take the short cut, not just in cycling and that doesn’t mean I agree with it. It’s good for those who do it right and play by the rules.
PEZ: I feel sorry for the young guys who were maybe under 10 years old when Armstrong was winning the Tour.
Nick: When I was 10 years old I looked up at all the stars and many after a while have admitted something, so maybe we pay more attention to it these days. For me life is more than just only cycling, it’s a small part of it, at this moment it’s important but not forever, I like it, I’m happy with it and the things I have achieved so far. I look at myself, you have to look at yourself, I cannot decide for others, you can talk too much about others, and you have to focus on yourself, ride well at 100% and do it for yourself.
PEZ: That sort of brings me to my next question: Your wife, Evy Van Damme, was twice National Belgian woman’s road race and once time trial champion, so is your house just all about cycling?
Nick: Ah well, actually my house has just about nothing cycling, I have two big pictures from Flanders in my office and then only the trophies and that’s the only things. Of course we talk about it and of course my (three) kids like it, when I go out training they have their bikes and things like that, but it’s not only cycling.
Nick’s wife Evy in action at the 2004 World Championships.
PEZ: How do you turn off from cycling when you are at home?
Nick: When I’m at home I always turn off from cycling, with the kids and all the normal things. Of course for the Classics my focus is incredible, but I still come home and I’m not a bike rider anymore, I’m the father of the kids and I think that’s a good thing; to stay focused out there and to stay in the normal World. As a cyclist sometimes you are so focused you don’t see the real World, I don’t want to be like that.
PEZ: You’ve been in a lot of different teams, have you noticed a difference between the teams or at that WorldTour level are they all much the same?
Nick: They are all professional; I’ve been with different teams from different countries with different cultures and different organisations. So I have seen differences, but they are always welcome because as I said before I always look at myself, it’s my career, so I do what I need to do. I had a nice experience when I was at Quick-Step, they were professional, I learned a lot and became a better bike rider, they made me realise I was capable of doing it.
Then Cofidis for a few years and then to Rabobank, a well structured team. Bjarne Riis said he really wanted to work with me and offered me a chance to be the leader at the Classics with Saxo Bank, but he moved his focus even more to stage races and not so focused so much for the Classics. Here (at Garmin-Sharp) they focus on the Classics and they have a really strong group with a lot of young riders. Even though I was really happy at Saxo Bank, but I need to look after myself, it’s my career and I want to focus on the Classics and my ambition is that I believe I can do it another time, another Tour of Flanders is fine by me!
Nick’s magic season with Saxo in 2011 included this big win at Dwars door Vlaanderen.
PEZ: What do you want to win this year, everything?
Nick: Everything, yea everything and if its possible; the right thing!
After all that he has been through Nick Nuyens is still ultra positive about the future of his career, just count the amount of times he uses the word “focus” this guy is full of focus and if he doesn’t win the Tour of Flanders again, it won’t be for not trying.