Thibau Nys thrusts his Trek cyclocross bike into the air after winning the opening round of the Cyclocross World Cup.

Waterloo CX World Cup gallery: A new Nys rises while Queen Fem reigns

The 2023-2024 World Cup series got off to a fast start in its lone North American stop.

Intro and captions by Joe Lindsey

For fans of the sport of cyclocross, Thibau Nys needs little introduction. World Champion, winner of four World Cup rounds last season and, of course, son of one Sven Nys, one of the greatest racers in the discipline’s history. Thibau Nys’ own legend has grown in the making, not least for his uncanny ability to ride up stairs.

Nys employed the technique on Sunday to win the season-opening Waterloo round of the Cyclocross World Cup. Speaking of steps, while Nys is no stranger to the top one on the podium, Sunday was a breakthrough all the same: his previous World Cup victories all came at the U23 level, as did last year’s World Championship, which is why he’s not wearing rainbows in these photos.

No, none of the Big Three were there, although former CX World Champion Tom Pidcock was prowling around stateside not long ago for the Little Sugar marathon mountain bike race. But little does that matter for Nys, who faced down European and Belgian champion Michael Vanthourenhout, a host of Trek teammates, and three-time Waterloo winner Eli Iserbyt for the win. That the victory came in Waterloo – home to Trek, which title-sponsors both the race and his Baloise-Trek Lions team – was all the sweeter. Big Three or no, we’ll certainly see more of Nys in the elite fields, if not this year, then soon: he’s only 20.

Rainbow jerseys were present in Waterloo, however, as reigning world champion Fem van Empel showed up to defend her win here last year, going against newly crowned mountain bike World Cup series champion Puck Pieterse, former world champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, and U23 world champion Shirin van Anrooij. Van Empel fought through some early barrier issues to take a convincing solo victory over Pieterse, with Alvarado third.

Escape Collective member Marshall Farthing was on hand and gracious enough to share this fantastic gallery. Farthing is a photographer and engineer based out of Detroit, Michigan and San Francisco, California. While his day job may be spent working on self-driving cars, he spends his weekends covering events in the cycling and automotive worlds, and we’re excited to share his work.

After its one-stop North American visit, the World Cup returns to European soil on October 29 in Maasmechelen, Belgium. That’s not all: the long-running SuperPrestige series kicks off on October 22 with the Vlaamse Druivencross in Overijse, Belgium.

You may be wondering: this is great, but what are Escape‘s plans for cyclocross coverage? More like this, honestly. We’re not going to do “and then Van der Poel attacked in a chicane on lap two”-style reports, but we do plan to bring you weekly roundup galleries from the biggest events: World Cups and the SuperPrestige and X20 series, chiefly. We’ll buttress that with brief results and notable news, but galleries will be the center of our coverage, and we’re pretty pleased that Marshall has started us off with a bang.

An amateur racer runs around an uphill switchback in the mud at the Trek Cup, carrying his bike. His ankles are spattered in mud as he gingerly rounds the corner.
Waterloo had two races over the long weekend, starting with Friday’s Trek Cup, which included amateur fields and faced the muddiest conditions, thanks to rain during the week.
A man in a Michael Myers mask holding a chain saw runs down the Trek Cup course during the costume event, mock-chasing racers.
Friday also included a costume race. Dunno about you but I’d probably put in my fastest lap time if I spotted this guy behind me.
A man dressed in an udderly ridiculous cow costume runs his bike up a muddy climb during the costume race. Beer-drinking spectators cheer him on.
This is Wisconsin, after all …
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, Puck Pieterse, Fem van Empel, and Zoe Backstedt lead the women's field at the start of the Waterloo World Cup. All have fierce, focused expressions.
Game faces on: by Sunday things had dried out a fair bit, and the racing took place under perfect blue skies as three of the sport’s best – Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, Puck Pieterse, and Fem van Empel – went straight to the front. Canyon-SRAM’s Zoe Backstedt wasn’t giving any ground, though.
Puck Pieterse hops the second barrier in a double set. She's looking down at her front wheel, intently focused on the barrier, and has perfect form - tap-touching the top of the barrier with her front wheel.
Pieterse immediately put her bunny-hopping skills to use …
Fem van Empel untangles her bike from course tape on the same set of barriers. The World Champion is lifting her bike clear and looking down, but clearly is nonplussed by the delay.
… while Van Empel got tangled up in course tape in the early going …
Fem Van Empel executes a perfect flying remount after the same barriers on another lap. She's in the air, with her right leg just crossing the saddle as she remounts the bike.
… and then proceeded to put on a skills clinic. 10/10 flying remount, no notes.
Zoe Backstedt lifts her bike by the top tube and left brake lever as she hurdles the second barrier in a set. She's got perfect form, high-stepping over the barrier cleanly.
Meanwhile, Backstedt’s suitcase technique is on point.
Manon Bakker is shown against a slightly blurred background to accentuate her speed. Her colorful white and green kit with red accents stands out against the blurred red avalanche netting used as course tape.
Manon Bakker focuses on the task at hand.
Puck Pieterse stands out of the saddle on a slight rise, chasing hard. The Dutch national champion is focused just in front of her front wheel as she accelerates in pursuit of Fem van Empel.
Pieterse put in a fierce chase about 30 seconds behind Van Empel but couldn’t close the gap.
Fem van Empel punches her fist in the air as she climbs the flyover ramp on the last lap. She's got victory in the bag and a big smile on her face.
A feeling that never gets old.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado portages over a barrier. She's in full flight, skipping over the barrier while lifting her bike by the top tube and left brake lever, with the bike slightly skewed to the side to clear the barrier.
Del Carmen Alvarado had a strong race to finish third …
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado sits slumped against a barrier at the finish. She has her hands on the top tube of her bike, obscuring her face, and her head is slightly bowed. Her lips betray the intensity of the effort she's just put in.
… and needed a few minutes at the finish to recover from the effort.
Maghalie Rochette throws the crue as she crosses the finish line in fourth place. She's got a big smile on her face as she sits up, crossing the line alone.
For those about to rock: Maghalie Rochette seems pretty happy with her fourth-place finish. The Canadian won six races in a row to start the season.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, post-race. She's laughing a big smiling laugh now, mouth open and eyes bright, as she stands in front of a white tent from a sponsor.
Much better now, thanks!
Cyclocross racers hit the dirt at the first corner of the opening round of the World Cup in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Eli Iserbyt, Loris Rouiller, Michael Vanthourenhout, and Thibau Nys are on the front.
First corner, four wide: the World Cup is off to its usual spirited start.
Scott Funston (right) descends the flyover into a sand pit alongside Dutch national champion Lars van der Haar.
Usually, American racers like Scott Funston (No. 21) have to go to Europe to race against top competitors like Lars van der Haar (left). It’s only one round, but the US stop of the World Cup reverses that (Funston finished 19th).
Michael Vanthourenhout bunnyhops the first barrier in a set of two. His front wheel easily clears, but is slightly askew as he looks at the second barrier. Ahead, Pim van Ronhaar has cleared the second barrier and is riding away.
It’s only the first World Cup race, but European champion Michael Vanthourenhout’s bunny-hop skills are in mid-season form.
Ryan Kamp's front wheel slides out as he falls to his left just in front of the second barrier in the set. His left leg is clipped out to try to stop the crash.
Ryan Kamp, however, is still putting on the finishing touches.
A muddy section of course rises up a slight ascent. The thick, chocolate-brown mud is churned up with grass and strewn with tire tracks and footprints.
Rain in the days prior turned the course to thick mud for Friday’s tune-up race and fun events, but by Sunday this section was drying out and much more rideable.
Witse Meeussen leans his bike hard to the left as he navigates an off-camber left-hand turn slick with mud. His wheels dig in almost to the full depth of his 40mm rims.
Still, Witse Meeussen needed a little body English in some of the greasier off-cambers.
Thibau Nys pops a wheelie on the flyover section as he rides to the win. Behind him, clouds fleck a blue sky.
Thibau Nys got a clear-enough gap on the chase that he felt confident styling out a few spots on course, like the flyover.
Thibau Nys raises his bike above his head after crossing the finish line. His mouth is open in a shout and his right arm holds the bike aloft as his left is flung wide, hand splayed open.
But at the finish, a more basic emotion took hold: pure joy at a major career milestone.
Thibau Nys gets a long, warm embrace from his father, coach, and team owner Sven. The two are shown in soft evening light. Thibau's face is obscured, but Sven wraps both arms tightly around his son as he buries his chin in Thibau's shoulder.
It can’t be easy to be an up-and-coming pro in a discipline where your dad is a literal living legend, but at least you have his full support.
Sven Nys stands slightly behind Lars van der Haar. Nys has a hand on Van der Haar's neck and is looking ahead as he speaks to the rider. Van der Haar's gaze is cast down slightly and he wears a somewhat neutral-to-unhappy expression.
As team owner of Baloise-Trek Lions, Nys isn’t at races only to support his son. Van der Haar may have hoped for better than fifth on the day, but Nys the elder shares some words of encouragement.
Thibau Nys turns around on the podium to show the back of the hockey sweater he received for winning the World Cup round. He's facing away from the camera, arms raised and both thumbs pointing back at the red jersey, which reads WATERLOO across the top in white letters above a white number one.
To the victor …


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