Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) poses with his brand new gold Specialized Epic, a surprise present for winning the Olympic Games. He didn't race it...
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Olympic mountain bike champion will decide after Worlds
What do Cadel Evans, Peter Sagan and Jacob Fuglsang have in common? All three are current WorldTour racers that used to be top mountain bikers. Mountain bike and road fans alike will have to wait a little bit longer to find out whether 2012 Olympic cross country champion Jaroslav Kulhavy will join his predecessors on the tarmac.
In the meantime, it's one big race at a time for the Czech rider who competes for Specialized Racing.
First there were the Olympic Games... just three weeks ago. "Winning the Olympics felt good because it was my big dream," said Kulhavy, "and I hope for a good future in cycling."
Kulhavy and Nino Schurter (Switzerland) faced off for an exciting finale outside London on August 12. When asked what he was thinking on that final, nail-biting lap after Marco Fontana (Italy) had dropped off due to a mechanical, he said, "It was hard because I was fresh, but in the last lap, I felt my legs and I was thinking about them," said Kulhavy.
"I had more energy on the flats. I tried to attack on the biggest climb, but Nino and I were still together into the last corner. That last corner was the last possible moment for an attack. I was stronger and I attacked. I was strongest that day."
So what about the future?
Kulhavy's contract with Specialized Racing ends with this season. "My motivation is still to win after the Olympics. My big dream was always to do road cycling," said Kulhavy. "It's a big decision - whether or I will ride on the road or stay with cross country. I will see. It will be a hard decision time at the end of the season."
There are a couple of options for the Olympic champion. "I need to think about it and decide. One one hand, I could be a perfect mountain biker for the next five years, or I could try road cycling for maybe two years and then maybe come back to mountain biking for Rio de Janeiro [in the Olympics in 2016]."
"I will decide once I see some offers," he said.
Kulhavy is wise to the fact that should he go to the road, it would not be an easy transition. He's raced a bit on pavement before, but nothing close to the WorldTour level. There's no doubt Kulhavy has a strong engine, but will he be able to pick up the tactics and the heavy race schedule of roadies?
"I have raced the road before, but just small races in Czech because in Czech, road racing is not so big," said Kulhavy. "It's not like in Italy or France. Czech road cycling is really small, but I have some experience with road racing. I always did it alone in races in which others had teams of nine or 10 riders."
It never hurts to ask those who have done such transitions, and Kulhavy has been doing his homework.
"I spoke with Zdenek Stybar, who went from cyclo-cross to road racing with Omega Pharma - Quick Step. It's a different transition from cyclo-cross, but I think our training is a little bit the same."
"I also spoke with Roman Kreuziger (Astana). It's just too soon to say what will be better."
"Peter Sagan was a big surprise for me. We rode together. He was a junior and espoir mountain biker and was super strong. He's good in the Classic races."
Time to defend a world championship title
After winning the Olympics, all pressure is off Kulhavy, who is looking forward to Saturday's elite cross country world championship race in Saalfelden, Austria.
"I am not under pressure because the most important race was the Olympics, but it would be a nice bonus on the day if I am in the top three. I think I will enjoy the race. It will be a nice last race of the season."
Speaking of his many media obligations after the Olympics, he said, "I don't know what my form is after the Olympics because I was really busy for two weeks. I was out of training. It was hard for me. I don't know whether my condition will be good or not."
On Saturday, Kulhavy will race his brand new gold Specialized Epic 29er. The bike was a surprise present from him team this week to honor his Olympic achievement.
But it wasn't his only new bike. He was also given a new white Specialized Epic 29er, which he raced in the team relay on Thursday.
Talking about the Saalfelden, Austria world championship course, he said, "I don't think it's so different from Champery. There are a lot of roots although there's not so much steep climbing. It's two climbs - long but not steep. There are not as many technical sections. I think the course is good for me. I'm good at steady tempos."
"It will be a good race. For the first half of the race, I expect a group of five or six riders." You can also expect he will be up against the usual cast of characters including his Olympic rivals Fontana and Schurter and those who are looking to make up for disappointing Olympic performances, like two-time Olympic champion and past world champion Julien Absalon (France), who DNFed in London.
Shrugging off any concerns about whether the rainbow stripes jersey brings a curse to those who wear it, he said, "I don't know - I think the rainbow stripes are perfect for every time. It's always a big challenge for everyone, and I'll take them any time."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships on Saturday.