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The Curious Case of Nick Nuyens

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The Fifth installment in the Pro Rider Trilogy*

Let's start with some numbers from CQ:

Year Team CQ Points CQ Rank Age
2003 Quick Step 218 248 24
2004 Quick Step 716 46 25
2005 Quick Step 763 38 26
2006 Quick Step 622 64 27
2007 Cofidis 584 77 28
2008 Cofidis 581 77 29
2009 Rabobank 416 131 30


That table of numbers is one of the odder tables you'll ever see. Let's go to the jump for some wild and unfounded speculation about what they mean.

First, what's so odd about that table? After a breakthrough season in 2004, Nick Nuyens first stagnated then went downhill. That would be normal if the guy was now 34 or so but this kid did this while entering his physical prime. That's the weird part. The fact that he's done this stagnation/regression thing with three teams now seems to point more and more to him rather than any team.

My first reaction to these numbers is wondering if he's one of those sad people who have a certain level of talent but once they get some success never develop further. They keep doing the same thing year after year and inwardly or outwardly (\o/ anyone?) blame others or bad luck or whatever for their non improvement. To me that's what the changing teams thing might be about: a search for someone who understands just how good he is.  But of course, it's not them; it's him.

But maybe I'm just full of it. Lets look closer at each year to see if his races tell us anything differently.

2003: His first Pro Tour year. Riding mostly second and third tier races he scores a handful of top ten placings: Picardie (9th), UNIQUA Classic (7th), Memorial Rik Van Steenburgen (6th), and GP Beghelli (7th) before winning the Nationale Slutingprijs.  He entered Paris-Tours, Het Volk and a couple others of similar stature but failed to score high. Overall he shows promise; Quick Step was right to buy him.

2004: Breakthrough year: Riding the same or similar second tier races, he wins four and places well in others. Wins: Ster Electrotoer-overall and one stage; Paris-Brussels, GP de Wallonie, and GP Industria & Commercio di Prato. Other high placings: Picardie (9th), Driedaagsevan West-Vlaanderen (7th overall), Dunkirk (9th), Tour de l'Ain (6th overall), Tour of Britain (3rd overall).

Again he also rode some higher profile races (and higher profile than the year before) but didn't do so well: MSR: 176th, T-A: 105th, Gent-Wevelgem-22nd, Fleche Wallonie-54th, and LBL:129th. But with a couple of these he showed promise. Clearly he was a bright new star on his way up. A step forward from the year before, which is what you should expect with a rider his age.

2005: Total major race schedule. He steps onto the big stage. The lowest profile races are Ster Elektrotoer (2nd), Tour of Britain (won), Wallonie (won) and a couple more. Otherwise though he is in practically every major spring race: Het Volk, T-A, MSR, and the full cobbles gamut including Holy Week, before taking the Ardennes off to race the Giro (he didn't finish that one). His late season is typical of a leading Belgium one day rider.

How'd he do with this tougher schedule? Good. A great start as he won Het Volk was followed by some decent placings at T-A and top tens at Dwars door Vlaaderen-Waregem ((6th) and Brabantsee Pijl (7th) and solid but not contending places at the Holy Week races-perfectly acceptable for his first go at those. Things continue to look up. Another small step forward as he gets used to the Big Time.

2006: About the same; maybe a dip. Riding about the same major race schedule he scores about the same as the year before: He races KBK instead of Het Volk but wins it. He doesn't do well in Paris-Nice or MSR but snags a 3rd at Brabantsee Pijl. His 17th place is his Holy Week highlight. No Grand Tours this year and gets some good results in his remaining schedule with a win on stage 1 of Suisse Tour.  That's his only other win. Summary: No change in results. I guess he's thinking a new team would help him out so at the end of the season he signs with Cofidis.

2007: New team; about the same results. He was hurt this year, right? He stops riding for the year at ENECO when he was leading the race so I presume injury. Before then he rides about the same schedule as in his last few Quick Step year, modified with some more French races and the Tour of course. He scored a win at the early season Etoile des Besseges and a 4th at Het Volk, then a 2nd at Brabantse Pijl (clearly that race is made for him) and a 7th place at Flanders. For Cofidis he does the Dauphine and Tour finishing well into the autobus (way over 100th place) every stage but one. Doesn't finish Vattenfall then gets hurt while leading ENECO.

So with his new team he scores about the same in CQ if you adjust for the injury taking away points. He also appears to not like high mountain stage races one little bit.  Good to know- and remember.

2008: A couple great results mask definite regression. Maybe it's the team as this is his last year at Cofidis. He scores a 2nd at Het Volk and a great 2nd at Flanders (his career highlight IMO), plus an 8th at Brabantse Pijl but other than a 9th at the Worlds he races a lot in races that don"t fit him well: two Grand Tours! He only makes it through 4 stages of the Giro before quitting but he does finish the Vuelta, managing 2nd and 3rd place stage showings. In between he does little stage races to no effect. Such promise on the cobbles but no direction after P-R. Frustrating.

2009: Back to a top team again with Rabobank and a schedule much like his Quick Step schedules but he just doesn't do much. Flat. Disappointing is all you can say (right Jens?) 14th at Het Volk, 8th at KBK, 7th at E3 (no Brabantse Pijl this year), 15th at Flanders, FNF at G-W, did not enter P-R, 8th at Amstel were the highlights. They were followed by numerous nondescript races and finishes, though he did go back to his old friend Wallonie and won it. Otherwise he was just pack fodder in the peloton. 


So have we learned anything but looking at each year?  Let's see:

- He doesn't wave his arms but the last couple of years he's been a cobbles guy only just like \o/. 

- He just s ucks at stage races. I mean awful. And he's gotten worse. I wonder if his confidence in races like ENECO is now shot. Years ago these races (Ster Electrotoer , Britain and the like)  were right up his alley. But trying to compete in bigger, truly mountainous stage races (Grand Tours, Suisse, Dauphine, Paris-Nice) seems to have royally screwed him up.

So looking at his body of work I see a rider who's money in a certain range of races but who tried to do more than he could and is now messed up in the head as to what he can do. Clearly 2009 was discouraging for Nuyens-and Rabobank. He's not too old; maybe he can adjust himself with age. Rabobank is a team with a lot of younger guys who can do what he does, or will in a year or two. I wonder if he would be better served on a team like Vacansoleil. Nuyens is good, a solid cobbles guy, but not one of the current greats. Is he in the class of Gilbert, Boonen, Cancellara, Ballan, and Devolder? Or is he a small step below them, more like Quinziato, Fletcha, Posthuma, etc. In earlier seasons, his wins were more in races when the true Big Boys were tuning up for bigger races.

But clearly his career stagnated and now is going downhill at a time and age when he should be better.  Given what he did at ages 25 and 26, we had every right to expect him to do better than he has. He should be stronger and smarter and with his base talent that should mean a serious palmares. But it ain't happening. Did his Cofidis sojourn screw him up? How would you handle him to best effect?

*The Pro Rider Trilogy:

Prologue: Assessing Andy Schleck's Year

Volume I: Let's Talk J-Rod and Katusha!

Volume II: '10 Tour: Cav Wants the Green, But Can he Take It?

Volume III: A Quick Peek At Radio Shack's Chances

Volume IV: Danny Moreno To *Lotto: huh?