By Brecht Decaluwé in Kalmthout
Czech rider Zdenek Stybar made his mark with a win at the first cyclo-cross World Cup Sunday in Kalmthout, Belgium. The 21 year-old Stybar was helped by his Fidea team-mates, who protected his lead.
"I never looked back and rode as hard as I could," Stybar pointed out how he attacked the bunch. "I thought someone would bridge up to me but the gap always grew bigger. Suddenly I heard a beep from my watch and realized there was another 30 minutes to go, and I said to myself – oh no – I thought I would lose strength."
"Luckily my fans were going wild and supported me through that tough moment," Stybar said. "During the last lap I was full of emotions, winning here as a neo-professional makes me extremely happy."
Home country favorite Sven Nys (Rabobank) waited too long to bring Stybar back, but he still finished second, as the top Belgian at the race. Frenchman Francis Mourey finished third and rounded out an international podium.
"I could've won today but Stybar has shown good form recently so he's certainly the deserved winner," Nys applauded Stybar for his efforts after commenting on the lack of help he received from others in chasing down the eventual winner.
At the beginning, Mourey took the hole shot as the fastest of 55 starters ahead of Nys and Bart Wellens, who later assumed the lead of a six-man group at the front.
Czech youngster Zdenek, who was U23 World Champion in 2005 and 2006, made his move just after the bunch crossed the finish line the first time. Nobody responded and he soon gained 18 seconds over the bunch paced by Dutch champion Lars Boom.
Zdenek's Fidea team-mates marked all attempts to chase him back. Team-mate Wellens lent a helping hand by popping to the front ahead of Christian Heule just before a series of technical and slow zig zag corners on lap five. Once Wellens was in position, he touched his brakes and rode through the corners like an old man. After five laps, Stybar had a seemingly insurmountable 46 seconds and with four laps to go, he had over one minute.
All in all, it was a good day for Fidea considering that race favorite and world champion Erwin Vervecken never overcame his poor start and had chain problems and changed bikes. He ended up 22nd. Wellens finished sixth and Kevin Pauwels came in eighth.