Happy birthday Thibau Nys, heir to cyclocross royalty

Meet Thibau

Thibau Nys is freshly-turned 18 years old — his birthday is today, Nov. 12 — but despite his youth, it might feel like he’s been in the public eye for a lifetime, especially if you know his lineage. Thibau’s father is Sven Nys, a Belgian cyclocross legend who won nine national championships, two world championships, seven World Cup titles, and hundreds of stages and races in between. After retiring from racing, he became the general manager of Telenet-Fidea, which became the Trek-sponsored Telenet-Baloise Lions cyclocross team, a major force in the sport.

Thibau has thus far blazed an impressive path of his own, winning junior World Cup, Belgian, European and world championship titles under his father’s tutelage. He was supposed to jump up to the Under-23 ranks in 2020, but the global Coronavirus pandemic forced him to race at the pro level with Telenet-Baloise after many U19 and U23 events were canceled. Thibau has acquitted himself well, even besting three-time world champion Mathieu van der Poel in the Battle of Balenberg cyclocross “triathlon” last June. 

That early star potential coupled with his pedigree has made Thibau something of a young celebrity in Belgium. He even stars in a primetime reality TV series in Belgium called ‘DNA Nys’, which follows the lives of the Nys family — and specifically, Thibau’s triumphs and tribulations on his bike.

Thibau is one of the most unique and talented riders from the most cyclocross-crazy country in the world. Here’s three things you need to know about him.

Thibau Nys on a training run ahead of the 2020 European Championships.

Thibau is still a kid

Though he’s already racing alongside the best athletes in his discipline, Thibau graduated high school just this past June. He’s only beginning to turn his full attention to the bicycle, something that scores of cyclocross fans have been anticipating for a long time now.

“DNA Nys” is a good reminder that any athlete is much more than their palmarès. Here’s a clip of tiny Thibau Nys that should melt your icy heart.

Sven Nys, back in action.

He's dealing with MASSIVE expectations

Cyclocross was born and popularized out of the mucky countrysides of northern France and Belgium, and holds a special place in the heart of that region unlike anywhere else. And within the sport, Sven Nys is perhaps the greatest rider of all time. His seven World Cup overall titles may never be matched, nor his feat of winning a world championship at 37 years old.

In an interview with José Been for SRAM, Thibau seemed fully aware of the expectations being placed upon him so early in his career.

“It’s mentally hard. I won’t lie about that,” he told Been. “I have to be patient. The people around me are very patient and I don’t really notice how the public feels. When I am at the start there are expectations. That won’t change ever again but I have time and lots of it.”

Thibau Nys celebrates his world championship.

He might be ready sooner than you think

Going from racing against fellow teenagers to present day legends of the sport like Van der Poel and Wout van Aert would be difficult for anyone (it should be noted that teammate Ward Huybs is also racing against the elites, and is even younger by nine days). Thibau told Been that recovering from races has been one of the biggest differences between the two levels.

“Normally I would train more to catch up, especially now that we have fewer races, but I am spent after every race because I race with the pros,” Thibau said. “I just have to give everything I have in every race I do. I haven’t touched my bike for two days now which is a funny feeling.”

Results don’t lie, however. In addition to his success in Balenberg last June, he finished a respectable fifth at Ethias Cross in Kruibeke last October, when teammate Toon Aerts won ahead of current Belgian champion Laurens Sweeck and European champion Eli Iserbyt.

More importantly, Thibau seems to be enjoying the job. The best clip from “DNA Nys” may be the footage of him winning a junior world championship, his face caked in mud and tears, hugging everyone in his entourage. The question isn’t whether he, or anyone, can ever approach his father’s record of success, but whether they have the drive to try. And by every indication, Thibau is set to give his all.