By Brecht Decaluwé
With Italy's Giro di Lombardia bringing the European road season to a close, the cyclo-cross circus is ready to take centre stage this weekend as the action moves from Flanders to the Czech Republic for the second World Cup event in Tabor. Last Sunday heralded the season's first World Cup in Kalmthout, Belgium and from now on the important 'crosses follow one after another at a ferocious pace.
After a tremendous effort in Kalmthout, there's no doubt Fidea's Zdenek Stybar will be the man to watch. The young Czech professional, a surprise winner of last weekend's World Cup, expects to have significant boost in motivation this weekend when racing at home.
"I lived in Kalmthout for two years so that's a special race for me," said Stybar. "Racing in Tabor is very special too because it's one of the few imes that the Czech people who follow me can actually see me racing. There is also the national championships, but that is different. Motivation is everything, so you can expect all the Czech riders near the front on Saturday."
Given his current form Stybar is expected to be the best Czech rider come Saturday, despite being cautious about his own chances. "For now, I don't know [what] the course will be like," he said. "I heard it is currently covered with snow but it should become warmer during the week. Last year [Czech rider Radomír] Simunek won and that was very nice for him, I hope to follow in his footsteps."
The 21 year-old Stybar is a two-time U23 world champion and this year decided to move to Belgium and turn professional. "I decided to live here all year long," he said. "In the past I stayed here with [Petr] Dlask during the winter only, but you should be here in the summer as well to find your way, to meet people. Right now I'm doing Dutch language training.
"I try," he laughed, when asked how his Dutch was progressing. "It's fun, you're between people although I must admit that I'm skipping lessons quite often these days, with the busy program we have."
Another motivation to become a flandrien is Flemish girlfriend Ine. "We decided to live together, although we didn't have anything to start with," he explained. "We just had the apartment in Essen, near Kalmthout. It's good to be on our own, we can do what we want."
The 21 year-old doesn't have any problems with the responsibilities that come with living away from home at a young age. "When I was 15 I was already travelling on my own between the races, it isn't something new for me."
Considering the manner of his victory last weekend, riding clear of the field on lap two and not being seen again, Stybar is likely to be a marked man in Tabor. "It was a fast course and that was to my advantage," admitted Stybar of the Kalmthout circuit. "Still, every race is different and we will see what happens. Right now I'm good in fast races but I hope to develop into a rider with more power so I can do well in the tougher races too."
Fellow Czech Petr Dlask turned 31 on Saturday and is thus a full 10 years older than his young compatriot. The five-time Czech champion has always promised a great future in international cyclo-cross, but injuries have plagued him throughout his career and it has been a while since Dlask captured a major win. This year his build-up was hampered again by a knee problem, but Dlask says things are progressing well. "My knee is getting better all the time," said Dlask. "There's no more oil between the bones and an injection should help me with that."
Last weekend in Kalmthout, Dlask didn't fare well, riding to an anonymous 27th place in the woods near Antwerp. Nevertheless the Czech giant is expected to ride near the front in Tabor, especially given that the rider has marked his home World Cup as a special event. "Next week is very important for me. The Belgians are always riding in front of their home crowds; we only have one big race," said Dlask, mindful that besides the Tabor World Cup, there are no major UCI cross events in the Czech Republic.
Last year's winner Radomir Simunek Jr is another local boy whose dream came true after winning his first World Cup race in front of friends in Tabor. "It's at home, so that's why it is my favourite race," he said. Home isn't exactly the right word since Simunek grew up in Bergen, near the Czech capital Prague, but nevertheless there's a connection with Tabor for the 24 year-old who currently resides in Rotselaar, Belgium during the cross season. "Before I turned pro I was riding for the Tabor cycling team, so I know the course very well."
Compared to last year, the son of 1991 world champion Radomir Simunek Sr isn't going as hard as he would like. "In September I crashed in a criterium, I was out for a week and that's why my form isn't like it should be," he explained. "Since my top form still has to come the world championships are the big target of this season. I want to do well in Treviso, that means I want to ride in the picture, hopefully the result can be a medal."
Perennial World Cup favourite and current world number two Sven Nys (Rabobank) was clearly strong in Kalmthout, but doesn't fancy his chances for Tabor. "Just like Kalmthout it is extremely fast so you can't make any mistakes," said the Belgian. "If I'm right, there's not even a corner on that course. Does it snow there? Well, I hope it stays like that because I prefer snow instead of a hard and fast subsoil."
There are no junior, women, or Under 23 races in Tabor this weekend, but Cyclingnews will provide full coverage from Saturday's action in the men's race which kicks off at 2pm local time.