Stybar is a three-time cyclo-cross world champion but has focused his career on the road in recent years. His last competitive outings on a cyclo-cross bike came at the C1 DVV Trophy in Loenhout and the C2 Versluys Cyclo-cross in Bredene in 2016.
This year he is using the discipline to add variety to his preparations for the 2019 road season, and his first outing came at the Zolder round of the World Cup on boxing day. Starting on the back row, and still far from peak fitness, he rode a quiet race and placed 21st, finishing more than two minutes down on winner Mathieu van der Poel.
"It was very hard. I suffered a lot," Stybar said in the post-race flash interview on Sporza. "I hoped to make a good start but that wasn't possible. During the opening laps I was always running behind the other riders on the climbs. The final laps were very hard and I made a lot of technical mistakes.
"I did enjoy the race somewhat. I hope that the next races go better and hopefully I can get into the top 12."
Stybar tipped his cap to Van der Poel but did suggest that the Dutchman's dominance is damaging the spectacle of cyclo-cross. Winning has become a routine for the 23-year-old, who has now won the last five rounds of the World Cup.
"Van der Poel is pure class, but his dominance makes 'cross a bit dull," said Stybar. "The race is always two laps too long when Van der Poel rides away solo. But it is difficult to ask Mathieu to slow down or to start from the last row. He is just stronger than the rest at the moment."
Stybar will now take part in three more cyclo-cross races: the DVV Trophy in Loenhout on December 28, the Superprestige in Diegem on December 30, and the GP Sven Nys in Baal on January 1.
The Czech rider will then link up with his Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammates for a training camp in Spain to ramp up his preparations on the road. The dip back into 'cross is set to end on New Year's Day, and it is unlikely he will return to the World Championships in February
"It's very hard because it's so close to the road season. It demands very intense training because I don't want to race for 14th position there. I don't think I'll take the risk," Stybar said.