When you ask riders and managers who are the favourites for the World Championship road title, the usual suspects of Peter Sagan, Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb always appear. Zdenek Stybar, however, heads into this year's World Championships with his best shot at a medal and is a serious outsider for the rainbow jersey.
The Czech national team don't provide the same firepower as many of the bigger nations and with only six riders they'll have to rely on others to set the agenda. However, after seeing his teammate Petr Vakoc put in a dominating ride to win the second stage of the Tour of Britain – admittedly he has since crashed and fractured a finger - Stybar believes that the country is sending their best team yet.
"It's really great. Also Roman Kreuziger has been really strong and also some of the young guys that are coming with us. So I think it is the first time at the World Championships we will have a really strong team," Stybar told Cyclingnews at the start of the third stage of the Tour of Britain.
As well as Kreuziger, Vakoc and Stybar, the team brings Jan Barta and youngsters Jiri Polnick and Karel Hnik. The undulating course and the pavé should see Stybar in his element and be the rider that the Czech team name as their leader, although if Vakoc can recover from his mishap then he provides them with another card to play.
Like many, Stybar is using the Tour of Britain as his final preparation for the Worlds Championships road race, which takes place two weeks after the final stage. The race is his first since early August, when he competed at home in the Czech Cycling Tour but he feels like he is on the right track. "I feel that I'm improving. I had some long training periods and now I just need to get into the rhythm," he explained.
"Normally it (the course) should with the cobblestones uphill suit me, it should be good for me. I think that this race is perfect preparation for the Worlds. I feel that I'm in good shape and that it's getting better and better. There is still a long way until the worlds and I hope that everything goes well."
The last two years have been a bumpy road for Stybar with two serious crashes last season at the Eneco Tour that saw him hospitalised and then at the Ardooie cyclo-cross race where he broke his collarbone. He bounced back in style though with victory at Strade Bianche, second place at Paris-Roubaix and a stage win at the Tour de France. There was some bad luck along the way such as his tumble in the final kilometres of Milan-San Remo but it remains one of his best, if not the best, road season for the 29-year-old.
"Last year was a tough year for me with two crashes so this year I feel that I have improved again. I hope that next year I will improve again next year," said Stybar.
After the World Championships, Stybar's last road race is likely to be the Tour of Lombardy. He is then faced with the conundrum of whether or not to ride cyclo-cross. The injury in Ardooie meant that he missed most of the cross season and, ultimately the World Championships. The Czech rider is still undecided on whether or not he will race this winter.
"It's difficult to answer. To continue directly after the season, I am tired already and after the Worlds I will do Lombardy and then, for most of the guys, the season is over and I would still have to do more races so I'm not sure," he told Cyclingnews. "In previous years, I have just done the races in December and it's very high intensity already. I don't know but I would love to do some races. I hope I will manage to do a few."
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