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Joris Nieuwenhuis: Off-road is the way to go

Times are changing. While a few years ago it seemed that the only way to make a living out of cycling was by racing on the road, nowadays off-road disciplines are proving to be more entertaining and, consequently, more lucrative. Still, money isn’t everything and many riders are driven by their intrinsic motivation.

From CX to road and back

Joris Nieuwenhuis is not following the organic or natural path to the top of the sport. It is more of an inverse approach, as the 27-year-old Dutch rider managed to make it to the WorldTour and raced several Grand Tours but now that he is focused on off-road disciplines it is when he appears in the headlines of newspapers.

We got to know him last May during the 3 Rides Festival in Aachen. He took part in the gravel event, which is included in the UCI Gravel World Series, and finished 2nd behind Paul Voss. By beating former Unbound winner Ivar Slik and other specialists of the discipline like Jasper Ockeloen, Joris clearly showed that his talent is unshattered, even more so if we consider that it was his first gravel race and he rejected to start from the pros grid even if he was eligible for it.

Back to current times, this past weekend he won the cyclocross Superprestige in Merksplas and finished on the podium of the World Cup in Troyes, France. The Saturday win was the second for Joris in the elite category, and his performance the next day got him his 3rd podium in an elite World Cup.

This can be considered his second chapter in cyclocross, even if he was still lining up for a few races in winter during his years as a professional road rider. His previous stint, which included his u23 years and the first couple of seasons as an elite, was really successful, and earned him the ticket to the biggest road races.

Joris became u23 World Champion in 2017, at only 20 years of age. After that win, he was still hesitant to focus exclusively on the road. The following season he was showing off his rainbow jersey in the u23 races but he already took part in some races with the elites too. In his first year in the elite category he already finished on the podium of a World Cup, in Heusden Zolder. Then, as he focused more on the road, the quantity and quality of CX races was reduced and he also had some back problems.

During those years he was already part of the development team of Sunweb (current Team dsm-firmenich PostNL), so stepping up to the pro ranks within that same structure was the natural step. That happened in 2019, and that year he already took part in some of the most prestigious one-week stage races.

Over the next couple of seasons, he would finish twice the Tour de France and once La Vuelta a España, contributing to the team’s success despite not taking any relevant individual result out of it. The rider from Gelderland would also end up racing all but one of the five cycling Monuments. The Spanish Grand Tour was his last race as part of the road team, and in October 2022 he announced his signing for the cyclocross team Baloise Trek Lions.

Finding the right balance

Joris mentioned that since switching disciplines he was able to add more variety to his days in general, and training in particular. “I now can run, do some weight training and go for a ride with intervals in the forest, instead of just a five-hour endurance ride”, he stated. The willingness to spend long hours on the saddle is still there, but this new situation grants him the flexibility he desired. “As a road racer you are on the road all year round. As a cyclo-cross racer, on the other hand, I have time for social projects. And I need that”. Now he is only away from home one or two days per week to race, which makes him happy.

Our good friend Gosse Van der Meer knows Joris very well, so we wanted to know a bit about Joris’ personal side. “He is a very modest and normal dude. He is very well attached to his hometown,  he could be considered a countryside guy”, described Gosse. Joris Nieuwenhuis has a down-to-earth personality, and his profile description on Instagram, “Just a guy who rides bikes and enjoys nature”, already says a lot. Gosse and Joris have spent many kilometers together, like when they tackled the Dirty Kanzeled during COVID-19 as an alternative to the gravel race, but they hardly talked about bikes or racing or cycling stuff.

Reestablishing himself at the top of the ranks

He quickly readapted himself to CX, but initially it was difficult to get a decent result given his position in the UCI Individual Ranking, as during the first races he had to start from the 4th or 5th row. As the 2022-2023 cyclocross season went by, he showed his abilities on the bike and, although he originally signed a short-term agreement with the team, his progression earned Joris a new contract at Baloise Trek Lions.

Both Joris Nieuwenhuis and Baloise Trek Lions must be looking forward to the rest of the current cyclocross season, backed by the succession of good results. He is currently in Spain for a short training camp before tackling the following race block and, even if the big three will start appearing on the startline over the coming weeks, don’t be surprised if you see him on the podium of multiple additional races.