Zdenek Stybar lived up to enormous expectations to claim the elite men's World Cyclo-cross title in Tabor, Czech Republic on Sunday afternoon. Having spent more than half of the nine-lap race alone out front, a mud-spattered, but clearly overjoyed Stybar had plenty of time to celebrate his win in front of an adoring home crowd.
Belgium's Klaas Vantournout fought hard to close the gap to Stybar in the final two laps but was forced to settle for a silver medal, 21 seconds back. Belgium also secured the third step of the podium as Sven Nys powered away from Martin Bina (Czech Republic) in the dash for the line.
"I'm very happy but I still can't believe that I actually won. This is a dream. Maybe I'll realize it when I'm wearing the rainbow jersey next week," said Stybar. "Riding those last hundred meters in front of a home crowd was unbelievable. It was a moment to cherish."
Despite what turned out to be a convincing win, the new World Champion admitted he'd found it difficult to judge his advantage on the hilly and twisting Tabor course. "Once in front I didn't know what the gap was. When looking at the big screens I only saw myself, but it wasn't until later that I received info from people along the course."
In contrast to pre-race favourite Stybar, Klaas Vantornout's gritty second place finish delivered a firm message to those who had ignored him in the Belgian team.
"All season long those three names [Stybar, Nys and Albert] were the favourites and because of one good result Kevin Pauwels was added to the list," said Vantornout after the race. "I was overlooked and that motivates me; then the animal in me breaks loose."
Drawing heart from his silver medal performance, Vantornout conceded Stybar was a level above today. "I had a very good season and I rode well every week. During the Belgian national championships I finished second behind Nys and now I'm second behind the strongest rider, Stybar. Finishing second was the best possible result for me today."
Third placed Sven Nys backed up his compatriot's comments about the race winner and predicted a bright future for the Czech World Champion. "Except for his flat tyre [on the opening lap] Stybar rode a perfect race. In the long term he'll be the rider who will win most world titles."
Despite being disappointed, Nys' bronze medal performance appeared fair reward for his efforts in an incident packed race that saw him hit the ground on several occasions. "Third place isn't bad but I made too many mistakes," he said. "I rode to win today, not to finish second. Physically I was as good as Stybar but technically today everything went completely wrong."
The biggest surprise on the results sheet was Niels Albert showing as did not finish. The defending world champion pulled out two laps from the finish. Despite his pre-race status as joint favourite, Albert never featured in the race, with 12th place his highest position during the race.
US Champion Tim Johnson was the best placed of the North American riders in the field with a 14th place finish. In the closing laps, Johnson's lap times made for particularly impressive reading as he sped up in his approach to the finish line. Jamie Driscoll rode to a similarly consistent 19th place. Jonathan Page and Jeremy Powers finished in 30th and 41st, respectively. Ryan Trebon finished 50th.
Belgians and Czechs lead the charge
The elite men's field set-off under a beautiful blue sky in Tabor as the morning's snow showers retreated over the horizon. Philip Walsleben (Germany) and Ireland's Andrew Layhe were the only absentees from the 66 rider start list. The German decided not to jeopardise the remainder of his season and headed home on Sunday morning to complete his recovery from a stomach virus.
Belgium's Klaas Vantornout grabbed the hole-shot as the remaining 64 riders barrelled towards the first corner. Starting on pole position on the grid, Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic) quickly assumed the lead from Vantornout as riders fought to quickly establish their early positions. While Vantornout's compatriot Sven Nys also got off to a strong start, teammate Niels Albert quickly dropped back into 10-15th position.
The course softened through the middle of the day under the sun, with ice and snow giving way to mud and slush. As the chaos of the start began to settle, the Belgians and Czechs dominated the front of the field. Stybar, Vantornout, Nys, Radomir Simunek (Czech Republic) were all present.
Stybar's lead was short-lived as he became the first of what would be a steady stream of riders heading to the pits for replacement bikes. Stber had trouble with his right pedal in the middle of the first lap. At the end of the first circuit it was Vantornout who led the field with Simunek latched onto his wheel, 15 seconds clear of the rest.
The second lap saw eight riders form a break at the front of the race. Vantornout, Simunek, Nys, Christian Heule (Switzerland), Francis Mourey (France), Gerben De Knegt (Netherlands), Kevin Pauwels (Belgium), were all there, with Stybar in close pursuit. Despite the early stage of the event, it was clear that defending World Champion Niels Albert wouldn't play a role in the final outcome as he assumed a position in the already distanced main pack.
The two laps that followed saw the lead change several more times. Simunek, Heule, Vantornout and Stybar all taking short turns at the head of the race. The constant pressure created a further selection as the quartet of Simunek, Heule, Vantornout and Stybar moved ten seconds clear of Nys, De Knegt, Pauwels, Mourey and a re-joined Martin Bina (Czech Republic).
Stybar's second surge begins
Stybar picked his moment to attack perfectly. He surged away and quickly gained 25 metres as the chase behind returned to an eight-man composition. Stybar was on fire and his advantage grew rapidly. By the end of the lap he'd built an 18 second buffer as he put his head down for the five lap dash to the finish.
As Stybar settled into the lead, the chase was reduced to just four riders: Vantornout, Nys, Bina and Heule. The Swiss dropped off the pace soon afterwards as Mourey and Simunek formed the third group on the road. The status quo prevailed for the next three laps, as Stybar consistently stretched his advantage towards half a minute. Behind, Nys put in a strong surge to close the gap to the flying Czech, but a crash in a turn put paid to his chances.
With two laps to race, Vantornout commenced a solo pursuit of Stybar's wheel, but with a 30 second gap to close there was little hope of him coming back to the inspired Czech star. Nys and Bina waged their own war, firing a series of attacks at one another but they were racing for third place.
As the bell tolled for Stybar's final lap, Vantornout had closed to 20 seconds but it was clear he would not catch his Czech rival. The leader powered through the first half of the final lap before switching to a more conservative approach to the final kilometre of the 3.2 kilometre circuit. That caution was thrown to the wind however as he passed his team pit as the first round of celebratory high-fives were exchanged.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Stybar hit the tarmac and made his way through a corridor of noise and Czech flags to claim the title of elite World Cyclo-cross Champion for the first time in his career.
Vantornout also arrived alone to take silver, while Nys beat Bina in one-sided sprint to the line.
|1||Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic)||1:08:58|
|2||Klaas Vantornout (Belgium)||0:00:21|
|3||Sven Nys (Belgium)||0:00:38|
|4||Martin Bina (Czech Republic)||0:00:40|
|5||Francis Mourey (France)||0:00:56|
|6||Martin Zlamalik (Czech Republic)||0:01:02|
|7||Christian Heule (Switzerland)||0:01:07|
|8||Radomir Simunek (Czech Republic)||0:01:18|
|9||Gerben De Knegt (Netherlands)||0:01:49|
|10||Bart Wellens (Belgium)||0:02:13|
|11||Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy)||0:02:25|
|12||Nicolas Bazin (France)||0:02:26|
|13||Steve Chainel (France)||0:02:28|
|14||Timothy Johnson (United States Of America)|
|15||Marcel Wildhaber (Switzerland)||0:02:37|
|16||Erwin Vervecken (Belgium)||0:02:45|
|17||Thijs Van Amerongen (Netherlands)||0:02:47|
|18||Marco Bianco (Italy)||0:02:54|
|19||James Driscoll (United States Of America)||0:03:07|
|20||Lukas Flückiger (Switzerland)||0:03:09|
|21||John Gadret (France)||0:03:11|
|22||Isaac Suarez Fernandez (Spain)||0:03:13|
|23||Laurent Colombatto (France)||0:03:14|
|24||Christoph Pfingsten (Germany)||0:03:17|
|25||Kevin Pauwels (Belgium)||0:03:29|
|26||José Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spain)||0:03:32|
|27||Fabio Ursi (Italy)||0:03:34|
|28||Jean-Pierre Drucker (Luxembourg)||0:03:42|
|29||Kamil Ausbuher (Czech Republic)||0:03:52|
|30||Jonathan Page (United States Of America)||0:04:05|
|31||Joachim Parbo (Denmark)||0:04:15|
|32||Thijs Al (Netherlands)|
|33||Ondrej Bambula (Czech Republic)||0:04:21|
|34||Peter Presslauer (Austria)||0:04:31|
|35||Ian Field (Great Britain)||0:04:43|
|36||Milan Barenyi (Slovakia)||0:04:50|
|37||Bart Aernouts (Belgium)||0:04:56|
|38||Petr Dlask (Czech Republic)||0:04:57|
|39||Johannes Sickmueller (Germany)||0:04:59|
|40||Gusty Bausch (Luxembourg)||0:05:00|
|41||Jeremy Powers (United States Of America)||0:05:13|
|42||Paul Oldham (Great Britain)||0:05:33|
|43||Wilant Van Gils (Netherlands)||0:06:07|
|44||Jody Crawforth (Great Britain)||0:06:12|
|45||Javier Ruiz De Larrinaga Ibanez (Spain)||0:06:19|
|46||Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez (Spain)||0:06:37|
|47||Luca Damiani (Italy)||0:06:48|
|48||Vaclav Metlicka (Slovakia)||0:06:50|
|49||Keiichi Tsujiura (Japan)||0:07:27|
|50||Ryan Trebon (United States Of America)||0:07:37|
|51||Martin Haring (Slovakia)||0:08:39|
|52||Robert Glajza (Slovakia)||-1 lap|
|53||Rodger Aiken (Ireland)|
|54||Szilard Buruczki (Hungary)|
|55||Bold-Erdene Boldbaatar (Mongolia)||-3 laps|
|56||Naranbat Ariunbold (Mongolia)||-4|
|57||Dror Pekatch (Israel)||-5|
|58||George-Daniel Anghelache (Romania)|
|DNF||Niels Albert (Belgium)|
|DNF||Egoitz Murgoitio Rekalde (Spain)|
|DNF||Mariusz Gil (Poland)|
|DNF||Magnus Darvell (Sweden)|
|DNF||Enrico Franzoi (Italy)|
|DNF||Arnaud Labbe (France)|
|DNS||Philipp Walsleben (Germany)|
|DNS||Andrew Layhe (Ireland)|