Issue 42: A Sven appears in Portland

It started with selfies on Instagram, Friday night. An old cross racing buddy was pictured standing next to Sven Nys in street clothes…

Issue 42: A Sven appears in Portland
Sven making up time late in the race

It started with selfies on Instagram, Friday night. An old cross racing buddy was pictured standing next to Sven Nys in street clothes, both smiling. I thought to myself “When did my friend go to Europe and how did he run into Sven Nys?” before I scrolled further and saw another photo from someone else, and then another. I quickly realized a bunch of locals didn’t suddenly go to Europe: Sven must be in Portland for Singlespeed Cyclocross Worlds.

Holy shit. Sven Nys is in Portland.

This was rather unusual because singlespeed worlds (both in mountain bike and cyclocross varieties) is a completely fake, made-up “championship.” It’s a kind of joke response to everyone being so competitive in bike racing, especially mountain bike racing which went from a lazy slacker sport in the early 1990s to guys in skinsuits trying to shave milliseconds off their downhill times later that decade, before swinging back to a happy medium.

Sven Nys has won multiple actual world championships on his cyclocross bike, and he retired from the sport last year, but he’s still kind of like the Michael Jordan of Belgium sports. Him being in Portland was a pretty big deal. But why was he here? Was he sandbagging the race? Was he racing it for fun, or did he really want a fake trophy to go with his real ones? And why the hell did Sven Nys fly 9 hours to Portland for three days of partying with a bike race thrown in?

Thankfully, Sven seemed to be here to have a good time. He took selfies at parties with lots of people, qualified second for the race on Saturday and showed up Sunday wearing a custom kit complete with hand-painted details on his frame, helmet, and shoes.

Trek was proud of their retired champion and were showing off a new singlespeed version of their carbon cross bike, and brought a small crew from Wisconsin to support Sven.

The race began with a Le Mans style start, with bikes strewn about a cornfield, and the riders about 200 yards away, running back to the field to fetch their bike to begin racing. As I waited in the field for the riders to appear, we noticed some enterprising racers seemed to be taking things a bit too seriously and placed their bikes near the start chute, far away from others. As the riders were walking back to the start line for the gun, fans moved bikes all around to add some confusion, but no one touched Sven’s custom steed out of respect.

The race got off to a hectic start but Adam Craig (multiple-time singlespeed worlds champ) and Sven Nys were at the front. It was hard to tell what was going on given the general chaos all around the course. Sven was motoring on the muddy, sloppy flats, but he was also goofing around, high fiving people, kicking the muddy yoga balls, and (at some point) getting hit in the face with muddy yoga balls.

Early in the race Sven was leading, then a couple laps later Adam Craig passed, and at that point it was likely up to Sven if he wanted to race to win or not. It’s a bit higher stakes with the SSCXWC race, since the winner must get a tattoo that night commemorating the win, so I think in his heart of hearts, Sven let the race go ahead without him, and Adam Craig won it for the fifth time.

Singlespeed Worlds are known for drunken debauchery and fucking around at the end of a long season, and the race frequently attracts top talent looking to blow off some steam. For this year’s event in Portland, Sven Nys, the former king of cross, showed up for photo ops and beer and seemed to have a good time at this totally ridiculous event.

Ed. note: After a good run of 42 issues, our magazine app is no longer available, but we’ve archived the content here for Medium members.