Zdenek Stybar has hailed Sven Nys as the greatest cyclo-cross rider of all-time in the wake of the Belgian's victory in the world championships in Louisville on Saturday.
Although 13,000km and eight time zones away, the former double world champion Stybar was happy to forgo an early night ahead of stage 1 of the Tour of Qatar to watch his former rivals do battle in Kentucky.
"I think now he has confirmed that he is the best cyclo-cross rider ever because he has survived all the generations," Stybar said of the veteran Nys, who claimed his first world title in 2005 but had endured a string of rainbow disappointments thereafter.
"He is now 36, so it was funny to see [third-placed] Lars van der Haar on the podium beside him yesterday, because he is 20 and almost young enough to be his son."
Nys has hinted that he is considering retirement in 12 months' time and Stybar told reporters at Dukhan Beach on Sunday that it was only fitting that he would spend what might be his final season in the rainbow jersey of world champion.
"I am happy for him that he has a second title near the end of his career and now he can really enjoy his year in the rainbow jersey," said Stybar, who felt that Nys had appeared unsure of himself in the early laps. "Sven didn't look that good and I actually think he was not confident. He was just waiting, waiting, waiting, which was strange for him. But once he got in the front, I started to think he was going to make it."
Stybar was speaking at the end of stage one of the Tour of Qatar, where he put in a long shift of work in the wind in support of Mark Cavendish. The Czech has opted to step back from cyclo-cross in order to make an impression on the road, and 2013 marks the first year that he will ride a complete road season.
Although Stybar is aiming to play a part in Omega Pharma-Quick Step's classics squad, he confessed that it was hard not to think of what could have been as he watched the cyclo-cross Worlds.
"You know, in the beginning, I wasn't thinking about that too much, but once the race started, and I saw the circumstances and the course, I started to think that maybe it could have suited me," he said. "But look, I had decided already. Everyone has to make some choices, and I've decided to go on the road and I have to be confident that it's the right choice."
It seems unlikely that Stybar will be tempted to return to cyclo-cross full-time in the foreseeable future, particular given the impact he made in a limited road campaign in 2012. He refused to be drawn, too, on whether he might at least line up for the world championships in his home country in Tabor in 2015, although he mused that it would be easier to reconcile with his road commitments than a Worlds on the other side of the Atlantic.
"In two years, it's in Tabor, but it's difficult to say if I'll be there," he said. "Maybe it's easier to ride it in Europe, but for the US, I would have just lost too much time in my preparation for the classics. But also, it's not possible be 100% [at the Worlds] with six hours [of cyclo-cross racing] in the legs."
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