The return of world champion Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea) to cyclo-cross hasn't gone unnoticed. After being out of competition for a month due to a knee injury the Czech made his comeback in Diegem on Monday evening. Stybar finished third at a respectable distance behind winner Niels Albert (BKCP-Powerplus) and unlucky runner-up Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet). Two days later in Loenhout the podium and race summary were repeated.
"I'm satisfied to be on the podium two times in a row," Stybar said. "I was a bit unlucky with a flat tyre but I made too many mistakes anyway. That's not illogical after a month without competition. Also, today there was a lot of cold water on my knee and that's the worst thing that could happen."
Back in 2008 Niels Albert had been out due to an injury during the first half of the season, making his return in Zolder by the end of December. Afterwards he went on to win the world championships in Hoogerheide, The Netherlands. This year Stybar seems to be in a similar situation as the Belgian two years ago and it could benefit the Czech ahead of the world championships in Sankt-Wendel, Germany.
"Of course I want to keep the jersey but my world will not collapse if I don't keep it. I don't want to put pressure on myself. I already won a lot this season and now I'm on the podium again. I'm just enjoying to be back in the races where I belong. One might think it's stupid but actually it's unique to be at the start of a cyclo-cross race," Stybar said.
According to teammate Tom Meeusen (Telenet-Fidea), however, it will be hard for Stybar to perform well. "To me his injury doesn't seem to be a bonus for the world championships. He's lacking the base form that we have now. This makes it hard to deal with the heavy training blocks.
"In Diegem I noticed he lacked technical skills. He'll also have to work hard to hold his podium positions in the series. He's got to prove himself and mentally it can't be easy. It's not as easy as the outside world might think. You don't become a world champion just like that although he has proven to be a true championships rider," Meeusen said.
Stybar emphasized that mentally it hadn't been easy for him the last few weeks. "There were two weeks where I couldn't do anything and then I started training again. It's true that I'm more fresh but mentally I'm more tired. The discussion about my contract and the difficult travelling didn't help," Stybar said.
The Czech rider is negotiating a new contract. His current Telenet-Fidea team has the option to keep him if they pay him the same amount as another team offers. The Quick Step team of Patrick Lefevre is interested, probably helped by their new Czech sponsor, and they've offered 525,000 Euro.
Telenet-Fidea manager Hans van Kasteren is keen to keep his Czech star but Stybar has other ideas. "My decision has been made and I want to go to Quick Step. Now it's up to Hans van Kasteren, Patrick Lefevre and my manager to find a solution," Stybar said. A decision in these negotiations is expected soon.