Trek renews for 3 more years of memories with Baloise Trek

Sven Nys explains how the Lions became a family

The Baloise Trek Lions are in the midst of a banner year. To date: 57 medal performances, 22 of which have come at the World Cup level. Twenty-three of those medals have been wins. Three riders — Lucinda Brand, Lars van der Haar and Shirin van Anrooij — were crowned European Champions in November. And Brand, the defending women’s world champion, continues to demonstrate that she may be the most dominant rider across any cycling discipline.

Sven Nys, the Lions’ team manager, is proud of everything the team has accomplished this year, but one of his favorite moments was watching veteran Toon Aerts cheer 20-year-old Pim Ronhaar as the youngster finished third in Besançon. Aerts had just taken an impressive silver in one of the biggest races of the year, but he stayed at the finish line to watch his teammate earn one of the best results of his career.

“For me, at that moment, everything came together and I felt what I want to reach with my team,” Nys says. “It’s working for each other and helping each other to a higher level.”

We're growing together. Things have never been better than I have it right now with Trek.

- Sven Nys

The moment exemplified the level of support — regardless of age, gender and skill level — that Nys has always strived to instill in his team. Above all, it showed how Baloise Trek has come to feel like a family.

The 2021-22 season may be the best yet in the six years that Nys has managed the team. And the future looks even brighter because Trek is renewing its partnership with the Lions for three more years. The announcement means a lot to Nys, a legend of cyclocross who has won six overall World Cup titles, nine Belgian national championships and two elite world championships as a rider. 

“It’s a relationship I built with them during the last eight years. It is really important,” Nys says. “We can do something for Trek, and Trek is doing something for us. We’re growing together. Things have never been better than I have it right now with Trek.”

Pim Ronhaar taking a bow after winning the U23 men's event in Namur.

A culture of development

Nys cares about more than just big-time results. He also wants to build sustainable development and interest in cyclocross racing. 

That’s why he’s equally invested in the Sven Nys Academy, which supports riders from six to 14 years old with cyclocross camps catering to riders of all levels. The camps not only develop riders who might one days become Baloise Trek-caliber racers, but they help spark enthusiasm for the sport broadly. 

“For me that’s also important, that we can give something back to the sport that I have loved for more than 20 years now,” Nys says. “And the more people we can put on bikes, the better it is for everybody. And that’s also a goal for Trek.”

The more people we can put on bikes, the better it is for everybody. And that's also a goal for Trek.

The Baloise Trek Lions also have two of cyclocross’ brightest young stars in Pim Ronhaar and Shirin van Anrooij, who are having excellent seasons on the men’s and women’s U23 circuits, respectively.

Ronhaar won the U23 world championship in 2020, and he has steadily progressed throughout his follow-up season. His bronze medal in Besançon on Nov. 28 was his first ever elite-level podium. And on Dec. 19, he scored his first career U23 World Cup win by 28 seconds in Namur. 

Nys is understandably excited about what Ronhaar can accomplish with his impressive engine, but he wants to make sure that the young rider uses every result — good or bad — as an opportunity to improve.

“We didn’t expect that success would happen so fast, that he would be on a World Cup podium already in the elite category. These are things that are really good, but we can’t expect that he’s going to do that every week,” Nys says. “We are not going to give him this pressure. Because he’s 20-21 years old, and he needs to make mistakes. He needs to learn from them.”

Shirin van Anrooij taking fourth in Koksijde, and first among U23 women.

Van Anrooij has consistently placed among the fastest riders within a generational class of U23 women’s cyclocross racers, and has brushed against elite podiums with fourth place finishes at World Cup races in Koksijde and Heusden-Zolder. According to Nys, having Brand as a teammate allows her to race without any pressure on her shoulders.

“Lucinda is the world champion, and Shirin, she can grow step by step and she can learn from Lucinda,” Nys says. “And now we see that even when Lucinda sometimes doesn’t feel well, that Shirin is going to battle for the podium. This is something that in the future is going to happen more and more, because the young guys are getting better, and then you have riders who can battle in every race on the highest level.”

Nys biggest goal with young riders is to set reasonable expectations while still supporting their ambitions. He emphasizes that riders shouldn’t measure themselves simply by their race results, but by their progression away from the course. In addition to Ronhaar and Van Anrooij, the Lions also have promising riders in Ward Huybs, Yentl Bekaert and Thibau Nys, Sven’s son. Thibau won the men’s junior world championship and U23 European road race titles in 2020.

Thibau Nys on the move in Heusden-Zolder.

“That’s the confidence we try to give them, that maybe at this moment, they are not in a position that they are the strongest riders of their category, but that we have the knowledge and that we also have confidence that they are going to be there in the long term,” Nys says.

Thibau will take on a full program of cyclocross and road races in 2022. Sven’s guidance, backed by years of experience with the highs and lows of the sport, helps keep riders like Thibau grounded even as they take on new challenges.

“I’m always talking about the mistakes I made during my career when I was a young guy,” Nys says. “I had the confidence from my tests that I could grow step by step, and at a certain moment everything comes together. We are convinced that the riders in our team can grow over the next few years.”

Lars van der Haar and Toon Aerts celebrating a double podium in Zonhoven.

A culture of support

Nys’ optimism is based on the culture of support embodied by the team. He doesn’t run Baloise Trek by himself. Far from it. Accomplished veteran riders like Lucinda Brand and Toon Aerts play a particularly important role in creating an atmosphere of ever-upward success.

Aerts is not only an excellent cheerleader, he is also an incredible racer, with a European championship, Belgian championship and two overall World Cup titles to his name. He and Lars van der Haar have removed any pressure off the Lions’ young men’s riders by consistently vying for podiums themselves.

The same goes for Brand, who is once again on an excellent run of form with 12 wins and sizable leads in the World Cup and Superprestige overall standings. Nys says that Brand has not only been an excellent mentor to Van Anrooij, but a great ambassador to all young women.

Lucinda Brand is having an excellent season in the rainbow jersey.

In particular, Brand has helped introduce fans of road cycling to cyclocross by developing the skills necessary to excel in both disciplines.

“We saw her potential five years ago. She had done everything to get in great shape, but not with cyclocross skills,” Nys says. “And then she showed that if you invest in those skills and take time to train, do all those courses, step by step, then you see that at a certain moment, everything comes together.”

Brand is not only a favorite to win every race she enters, she also exudes joy for the sport. She’s one of the team’s best motivators.

“Lucinda gives a positive energy to the team when they come onto the bus,” Nys says. “That’s something I hear, that’s something I see. And I think both the men’s and women’s teams are positively impacted by Lucinda.”

Lucinda gives a positive energy to the team when they come onto the bus. That's something I hear, that's something I see.

One of Nys favorite aspects about his team is how the men’s and women’s sides work together. They not only train side by side, but they root for one another. And because of that, everyone shares in each individual’s success.

“Lucinda and Shirin, they are almost always training with the boys,” Nys says. “And they support each other. They talk to each other when they practice on the course, and they learn from each other. And that’s the connection. That helps the team grow to the next level.”

Confidence in the future

The biggest reason Nys is so upbeat about his team may be how it handled one of its lowest periods.

“I have never felt a better atmosphere in our team than in 2020-21. Even with the coronavirus canceling training camps and races,” Nys says. “How we worked, the energy I felt in our team, that was amazing.”

Shirin van Anrooij winning a U23 European championship under a rain of confetti.

According to Nys, that energy extends all the way back to when he first signed with Trek. He has worked hard to pay forward the lessons learned during his career. And he is grateful to still have Trek’s support now and into the foreseeable future.

“It all started in 2013 when I first came to Waterloo and signed my contract for the last two years in my career,” Nys says. “I felt that it’s a family where you are really happy to be there. It felt like coming home. And this is something that only grew during the last few years.” 

Trek will continue to give the Lions resources like top-of-the-line equipment and expertise. In return, the Baloise Trek Lions will continue to pursue excellence via a demonstrable love for cycling and cyclocross. To Nys, the match couldn’t be more perfect.

It all started in 2013 when I first came to Waterloo ... it felt like coming home.

“The connection we have, the communication that we have, the decisions that we make, it is all in a positive way,” Nys says. “And when there is a stressful moment, you feel that a company like Trek has the knowledge to help. 

“It’s a relationship I built with them during the last eight years. I can’t say enough how happy I am.”