Guest Article- Evanescent Riders: Nick Nuyens

Winning the Ronde, even once, should get a person some long term credits, at least free drinks in every Belgian bar. Yeah, you won Flanders, but what have you done lately? Pay and performance, present pay for future performance, it is sorted business. Maybe it is what makes the world go ’round. @ChrisO takes a look at it. 

VLVV, Gianni

Saxo Bank hope Nick Nuyens crashed heavily on the course, ending any hope of vying for a top position in the race.” So reads a Cycling Weekly report noting Brad Wiggin’s second place in the opening TT of Paris-Nice, March 2012.

At the time it wouldn’t have seemed like an epitaph for the career of the reigning Flanders champion and former winner of Het Volk, K-B-K and the Tour of Britain among others.

But nearly three years later on January 13 2015 Nick Nuyens officially announced his retirement, saying he’d never really recovered from the hip fracture sustained in that Paris-Nice crash.

The intervening time was a catalogue of comebacks and setbacks. Moving from Saxo to Garmin he was dropped in the TTT of Tirreno-Adriatico 2013 and barely finished a race all season.

The spring campaign of 2014 was no better. Incredibly ten days after surgery to correct a cardiac arrhythmia he lined up at Ster ZLM Toer on June 20 before abandoning on Stage 3.

By September with just 35 race days all year he knew he had no place in the merged Garmin-Cannondale team for the following season.

With little interest from other teams Nuyens finally quit. As one report put it, his Tour of Flanders victory should have been a turning point, instead it marked a high point.

I have to admit Nick Nuyens was one of those names I knew but had never really followed.

But in January 2015 I happened to be sitting rather painfully at home as I recovered from my own hip fracture a little over two weeks earlier.

Obviously it wasn’t good to hear that someone with a less serious version of my own injury had been plagued by problems for years and unable to fully recover.

But what really drew my interest was a series of tweets in the next days from former manager Jonathan Vaughters.

The first contrasted the messaged thanks of former rider Johan van Summeren with that of other cut riders being “whiney little babies crying to the media”. Further tweets made it clear he was referring to Nuyens.

“Can’t discuss full story due to medical privacy laws. But Nick knows exactly why I call him deceptive.”

“How would you feel about someone you paid millions to that was deceptive about the state of their health.”

“I have some feelings about Nick. And well prior to his “retirement” tirade.”

“I never lied to Nick. I didn’t speak to him at all. And with good reason. You don’t know the full story. Good riddance.”


Evanescent means brief, ephemeral, tending to vanish like vapour.

I don’t know the rights and wrongs between him and Vaughters – I doubt they do themselves – but I can imagine how a professional athlete must feel as his career ebbs away for reasons he can’t control or fully understand.

Looking at the articles I have to wonder about the pressure on him from the team, from doctors. A few weeks off for a hip fracture, a few days for a cardiac procedure. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wondered just whose interests they had at heart.

Fredrik Kessiakoff made similar comments about his time at Astana. Medical staff told him not to race but team management ordered him to line up, even threatening his salary. It started a vicious cycle when, not surprisingly, an unfit rider failed to deliver results. Kessiakoff also chose to retire but it’s not hard to see an alternative where riders under pressure look for other, possibly illegal ways, to show their value.

Even as a modest amateur athlete I found it intensely frustrating to have such a serious injury. Not just frustrating but depressing. My self-image is of a fit, athletic guy who can ride 1000km a month and hold his own in most races. Suddenly a simple leg lift required every ounce of my concentration. I had to have a special raised toilet seat fitted to take a shit.

Eight months later I’m still doing daily physio and I’m maybe 90 to 95% of where I was. I have good weeks and bad weeks, and that may be as good as it gets. I don’t know and I doubt Nuyens would have known either. It’s no disaster for me but at pro level that’s the difference between prime beef and chopped liver.

It’s not only physical. A bad injury gives you a mental free pass off the tollway of pain and suffering.

If I’m struggling to keep a wheel who would possibly blame me for dropping back? Once you start to think like that the rest is just a matter of time.

One quote from Nuyens hints at this. In early 2014, still looking forward, he admitted to having considered retirement saying “When you’ve won a monument like the Tour of Flanders and then a year later you’re at the back hanging between the cars…”

As cyclists we gain so much from being able to share the roads with the pros we love to watch. Anyone who’s ridden the cobbles of the Carrefour has a different perspective on Paris-Roubaix. To have suffered up Alpe d’Huez or the Stelvio, or given everything in a TT, brings a new appreciation of Contador, Nibali or Wiggins.

Let’s also consider the physical and mental climbs they can’t always make it over, and appreciate Nuyens, Kessiakoff even Schleck. It will certainly be in my mind as I watch Taylor Phinney come back, hoping another talented rider will not be grasping at the vanishing smoke of a promising but evanescent career.

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19 Replies to “Guest Article- Evanescent Riders: Nick Nuyens”

  1. As I’m recovering from a shoulder seperation(10 weeks and counting), a timely article.

    Yet again, Vaughters comes off the worse

    There ARE 4 wise monkeys, he hears nothing, sees nothing, speaks nothing, but, the 4th, DO no evil is a bit beyond him

  2. Although tragic, I did enjoy the insight and perspective adjustment. Good one ChrisO!

  3. At first glance at the lead-in picture I though we were getting an article on Damian Hirst!

    We are all quite opinionated on here, but we’ve never been in a pro’s shoes (metaphorically speaking) and had to deal with the pressures they face. I’m keeping fingers crossed for Phinney to come back – his performance in Utah was promising.

  4. @ChrisO  “Incredibly ten days after surgery to correct a cardiac arrhythmia he lined up at Ster ZLM Toer on June 20 before abandoning on Stage 3.”

    Well, going by my own experience in this matter, hoping to race so soon is madness. I stupidly thought I could race two weeks after my ablation and start cross not long after. Never mind the fact that I had a good limp from the venipuncture site for a few days (it felt like someone missed wide right trying to hit me in the goods), but I was short of breath walking up stairs for a few weeks to boot (thanks to an accelerated junctional rhythm that had me aware of EVERY heart beat). So that pretty much shot training for a good month. How they expect these malnourished waifs to heal quickly and recover faster than regular folks is baffling.

  5. Many a pro athlete has been forced to retire due to injury.  It is especially depressing when they are in the prime of their career or on the verge of breaking-through.  Come backs after a serious injury seem to be quite rare.  If I were a pro, this injury (below) would have forced my retirement.  Many years later and I still have pain and limited mobility.  I went from Cat I to Cat III in a snap of the fingers.  But at least I can still race while others have not been so lucky.

  6. A fine article. Shared road as a symbol for shared experience with your own experience woven through it, all without over-stating it or making it overwrought or laboured – a really fine article.

  7. Speaking of Vaughters, nothing he says is to be believed. I seem to recall him swearing an oath to quit if any of his riders tested positive. Well, Tom Danielson tested positive, so…

  8. @il muro di manayunk

    Speaking of Vaughters, nothing he says is to be believed. I seem to recall him swearing an oath to quit if any of his riders tested positive. Well, Tom Danielson tested positive, so…

    In defense of Vaughters, I think he swore he would shut down the whole team, fold up the tent and move on. Had he done that, put every support person and rider out of a job because Danielson tested positive, that would have been a really dickish move. Not that he could have anymore, maybe when it was just Slipstream Sports and he was the boss he could have but firing eighty people for one doping would be lame, in my opinion.

    It’s impossible to know what happened between him and Nuyens but if Nuyens had hidden his medical history or doping history from Vaughters, JV had every right to be pissed. Nuyens could have been denying some younger, healthy racer a contract. I generally would back a rider over management but I can see both sides to this. And yes, JV sounds like a jackass on twitter. That’s why I don’t use twitter. It’s hard not to sound like a 3rd grader, not that 3rd graders sound like jackasses, but they sound like eight year olds.

  9. @Gianni

    I agree re: can’t just fold a whole team and put everyone out of a job, but then why on earth make such an outlandish statement? No way he could have ever backed it up and still slept at night.

  10. He may not be able to wind up the Team as it’s not all his, but he can do the right thing himself, you know, the honourable thing, the bit where you stand by what you said, even if you are the only casualty.

  11. @piwakawaka

    this is the thing, he didn’t say that he’d wind up the team, only that he & Doug Ellis would walk away. Now even if Ellis stayed on board to ensure the financial security of the organisation, I doubt there would have been many tears had he walked away.

    This isn’t the first time there have been stories of riders getting “questionable” medical support within the Slipstream organisation. Trent Lowe was a pretty promising Aussie on the squad who was suffering from symptoms later diagnosed as chronic fatigue, seems Vaughters & Matt White thought it was a good idea to have him tested by Luis del Moral (can’t understand why they’d choose that particular doctor) leading to some pretty nasty “suspicions” cast against him…

  12. More importantly….. I am starving…… and then I see a photo of all the lovely deli goods !

    Ahhhh frustrating !

  13. @DCR12

    More importantly….. I am starving…… and then I see a photo of all the lovely deli goods !

    Ahhhh frustrating !

    That’s the Contadeli he’s in. Lots of dodgy meat products.

  14. Injury and medical problems have such a profound affect not just on our sporting aspirations but especially our pyschological strength. I recently watched this amazing documentary on BBC IPlayer on David Smith MBE who is a paralympic athelete. I would recommend everyone to watch this if they can its an inspiration – You will need a vpn or proxy server set to UK location to watch this as its on BBC IPlayer but its worth it –

    Once i got my surgery out of the way i hope i can maintain the mental strength he has and find the satisfaction of achieving goals even if it is only standing up.

  15. Best wishes for a continued full recovery, Chris!

    I badly broke my leg after my first year in college. Since I’m not very big and played a sport where speed and strength are keys, I really, really had to rely on my speed. I weighed around 10-15 kilos less than just about everyone else on the field. I recovered, but I don’t think my quickness and lateral movement every fully returned.

    I can only imagine being a pro athlete, where everyone is extraordinary and any minor slip in ability can put you “back between the cars.”

    Vaughters. I think if I saw him in person I’d have to talk myself out of punching him in the face. What a lying sack of shite.

  16. Talking about coming back from an injury… Some quotes today from the cool cat, “It just blew my mind man”, “did that happen?”, “I’m so jazzed”… after big win. Fun to watch indeed. Cheers

  17. @Gianni

    If JV had the guts, he would do as he say and close up shop.  Then hopefully the next sad sack that dopes realizes that he can screw 80 people out of their jobs and livelyhoods and maybe think twice before they stick that needle into their behinds…

  18. The more I read about JV (and the more I read of what falls out of his mouth); the less I like him. If he’s trying to come across as a berk, he’s nailed it.

    More importantly though, hope your recovery is a swift and full one @ChrisO. I thought I might be joining you for some desert riding courtesy of work, but I think I’ve dodged that bullet for now.

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