With a blistering performance in the snow and ice of his home country Czech Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea) brought home the biggest win of his career to secure his first elite World Cyclo-cross Championship win on Sunday in Tabor.
Stybar's win came nineteen years after the last Czech win at the world championships when Radomir Simunek Snr - father of the eponymous rider of the BKCP-Powerplus team, Radomir Simunek Jnr - won the World title in Gieten, Netherlands in 1991.
"Hopefully it will not take that long before my country can celebrate the next world title," Stybar laughed afterwards.
The 24-year-old Czech had to pull off a great ride to claim victory in Tabor and at the end of the first lap his task was made all the more difficult when he suddenly dropped from first to twelfth position with a puncture.
"I knew that I was in the form of my life and I was prepared that ,despite bad luck, I would still be able to close the gap on the leaders. I had a plan in my head. At first I tucked in behind the French rider Francis Mourey, but I knew that I would move up. I knew accidents could happen and all race long I was riding on the edge. That way I couldn't have any regrets after the race."
After receiving a fresh bike, Stybar bounced back from 12th position and three laps later launched a fierce attack to which none of his rivals was able to respond.
"Once in front I didn't know what the gap was. When looking at the big screens I only saw myself; it was only later I received information from people along the course."
His World title comes just a week after his overall win in the International Cycling Union's (UCI) World Cup and makes the 2009-2010 season the best of his short but successful career. Racing on home soil as one of the top favourites brings along a lot of pressure but the Czech dealt perfectly with it by passing the baton of responsibility to Belgian champion Sven Nys.
"I wasn't stressed. Thanks to the overall victory in the World Cup I had a lot of confidence. That competition was my goal of the season, this is the icing on the cake."
Born in Stribro, near Plzen, the first Czech world title in nineteen years will surely boost the sport's popularity in the Eastern European country. All the Czech riders were supported strongly by the huge crowds, but Stybar was also boosted by support from his adopted home, Belgium.
"It's definitely the biggest experience so far. There were so many Czechs and Belgian fans supporting me today. Winning in front of a home crowd is unbelievable," he said. "Nys is exposed to a similar atmosphere in his hometown Baal, but for me an experience like this isn't possible when I'm racing in Belgium."
Though excited by his victory in front of hoards of his compatriots, Stybar lives full-time in Belgium and dates a Flemish girl. Those factors, his ability to speak Dutch and a outgoing personality have already endeared him to many die-hard Flemish cyclo-cross fans.
The Belgians have already staked their claim for the Czech, chartering a plane that will bring 'home' the World Champion on Sunday evening. "My sponsor Telenet has a plane with 170 people on board. They arranged a party in case I was World Champion," explained Stybar.
"That's my priority now. I'm earning my money with Telenet-Fidea. I would have liked to spend more time with my friends and family here, but that's how it goes in the professional world."
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