Resurrection man.

"Nick Nuyens kan de Ronde van Vlaanderen winnen?
Nick Nuyens kan de droom gemaakt?  Nick Nuyens wint de Ronde van Vlaanderen!   Nick Nuyens wint de Ronde van Vlaanderen!"

(Photo AP)
In sports broadcasting, sometimes a simple event repeated to a crescendo by an excited voice makes a lasting impression on the public.  Sometimes it births a line that resonates for generations.

"The Giants win the Pennant!" 

"Havlicek stole the ball!"   

Yesterday, from the streets of Meerbeke, the airways of the Flemish speaking world echoed to the jubilant words of the vlaamse Phil Liggett - Sporza's Michel Wuyts - who put the appropriate exclamation point on what was arguably the most exciting Tour of Flanders any of us can remember.

"Nick Nuyens wint de Ronde van Vlaanderen!"

Yea wielersupporters.   Dreams can really come true, provided you never give up.

Underdogs everywhere, rejoice.   This was one to savor.   You wouldn't have given two cents for Nick Nuyens' chances of ever winning the Ronde when he abandoned last year, destroyed and dejected.  A series of moves from Quick Step to Cofidis to Rabobank had woven a trail of unfulfilled delusion, and spiraling confidence.  A last chance with Saxo Bank, and suddenly...  Badaboom!  A dream spring season, marked by the resurrection of one of Flanders most likeable, charismatic riders.

What changed? The Riis factor.

"Take my riders?  I'll still beat you
Black Leopard"
Yesterdays victory must have been oh so sweet for  Bjarne Riis, the man who should personally get much of the credit for Nuyens' Lazarus act.   Bjarne is a true svengali when it comes to bringing back the written-off, and the passed-over.    Bobby Julich, Carlos Sastre, Jens Voigt, Tyler Hamilton.   Many had their best years in restarts under his guidance.

Yesterday's finish was a poignant nose-thumbing to Team Leopard, reminding one of that old Monty Python Holy Grail scene with the Black Knight...

"Cut off my arm?  Just a fleshwound.  I can still fight you!"

Pezzi's '67 Salvarani armada included Gimondi, Zilioli...
even Giancarlo Ferretti - later Bianchi and Fassa Bortolo DS
Riis seems to be following in the footsteps of Luciano Pezzi, as a master of resurrection.  Pezzi, who passed away in 1998, was a gregario of Fausto Coppi who later went on to become director of several Italian pro teams in the sixtes, seventies, eighties and nineties.  He directed Felice Gimondi to his Tour, Giro and Paris Roubaix wins with Salvarani, and also did stints as D.S. with Dreher, Fiorella-Citroen, Magniflex-Famcucine, Morella, Gis, and Inoxpran.    He directed champions like Adorni, Motta, Altig, Zilioli, Battaglin, Moser and Baronchelli.  His final project was as president of the Mercatone Uno team, an armada built around Marco Pantani.  Pezzi passed just before his beloved Pirata did his Giro-Tour double.   Some say if Pezzi has lived, Marco might still be alive, such was his influence.

Luciano Pezzi.
As unlikely as that might seem, it was not without a foundation as concrete as the average casa wall in his native Emilia-Romagna.  Pezzi earned a reputation for taking 'destroyed' riders, and bringing them back to glory. His methods brought Giovanni Battaglin back to win the Vuelta - Giro double in 1981.    And before that in the seventies, it was Italo Zilioli.

Pezzi's secret?   No secret really, it's there in his book, Il Corridore Professionista in a chapter entitled: "How to recoup a racer who's practially 'finito'.    

"First of all, a scrupulous medical examination, followed by major psychological reinforcement."   In the book, Pezzi talks about how it's easier to bring back the physical state than the mental state, and how to work to ensure the latter.  In short, it's a testament to the power of constant, positive reinforcement, communication, and patience.  Elements so simple, yet at the same time ever more increasingly difficult to achieve in a warp speed digital, frantic, high pressure modern life.  

From my admittedly distant vantage point (video, tv, and encounters well documented in the film Overcoming) it seems that Riis has a similar, calming effect on his charges.   His influence certainly worked with Nuyens.    From change of winter training venues (getting out of Flanders to the Mediterranean sun) to holding back a bit (not entering Het Volk opening weekend), Riis magic touch has done it again.   Those Leopard guys say that Riis wasn't engaged anymore?  Sorry, don't buy it.   Chapeau, Bjarne.   Wish you could work on me...

The video celebration of Riis below, and the contrast with Wilfried Peeters of Saxo Bank says more than words can.

I'd posted after Dwars Door Vlaanderen that Nuyens reminds me a little of Erik Leman.   A compact, smart, punchy and quick rider who comes into his best on Ronde Sunday, where he punches well above his weight.    Eric Leman won his Rondes by taking the best scalps in small group sprints, just like Nuyens did yesterday.

In 1970 riding for Flandria, Leman outsprinted Walter Godefroot and Eddy Merckx.   In 1972, he took a royal sprint from Frans Verbeeck, Andre Dierickx, Willy DeGeest, Roger Rogiers, Roger Swerts and Eddy Merckx.   One year later he did it again, this time over neo pro phenom Freddy Maertens, Merckx and DeGeest.    Three sprints.  Three times the Cannibal goes down to the Flahute.    

Resurrection stories are great.   Chavanel deserved to win yesterday one could argue, and Cancellara too.  But one senses Nuyens needed to win this one.

Proficiat Nick.   Hope you win a few more.


  1. You are so right. What a beautiful race. It doesn't get any better. Chavannel, Nuyens, Cancellara, they all deserved the win.

  2. I'm anything but a Riis fan but I think your take on his managerial and motivational skills is dead-on. It would seem that the guys he helps to stardom soon forget his influence and start to believe it was all THEM alone. How often have we seen this in the past? You have to wonder about all the guys who bailed out of Riis' program -- only time will tell if it was them or Bjarne.

  3. Very decent 10th from Geraint Thomas too,


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