Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic) quickly made up ground from a challenging start position at the Cyclo-cross World Championships but ultimately it wasn’t enough to help him push close to the front of the field and overcome a lack of racing throughout the season.
Stybar – who won Cyclo-cross Worlds in 2010, 2011 and 2014 – hadn’t planned to race cyclo-cross at all this season, let alone at Ostend, after a late finish to his road season. However, as COVID-19 pandemic related cancellations pushed back his road start date for 2021 the Czech rider decided to join the fray just as the season reached its peak. Without a season of racing behind him, and the points that come from results in those races, Stybar started at the back of the grid at the sandy course on the banks of the North Sea. Still, the opening moments of the Belgian race went “reasonably well” for Stybar who quickly managed to work his way up the field of 44 riders.
“I rode in about fifteenth position. I probably passed thirty riders in the first 300 metres," said Stybar. "At the first fly-over things went wrong. I had to set foot to the ground and got stuck. I lost ten positions."
As Mathieu Van der Poel (Netherlands) and Wout Van Aert (Belgium) battled for victory, Stybar rode much of the eight-lap race in around 15th to 17th position but lost ground in the last stages, ultimately finishing 18th in his first race of the cyclo-cross season.
"I rode most of the race with Tim Merlier (Belgium) and made a lot of mistakes in the final fifteen minutes. I was suffering,” said Stybar. “Racing here is not to be compared with training. Riding through the sand and then having to climb up that bridge is impossible to simulate in training.”
Stybar, who races with Deceuninck-QuickStep, has had limited time racing cyclo-cross since he switched to the road in 2012 but, with the exception of 2017-18, has usually managed to fit in a number of events most seasons. However, the World Championships wasn't usually one of them, with this being his first since 2014, when he won.
“The world championships are special to me. I’ve got fond memories to it. This week many memories were coming back. It’s a pity that I lost my great record here. It will not be the last ’cross World Championships,” said Stybar.
Though, there are no expectations that another return to Worlds will also mean a return to the results he delivered in 2010, 2011 and 2014, given the current dominance of Van der Poel and Van Aert.
“Mathieu and Wout are in a league of their own. Nobody can follow them on the road, let alone in cyclo-cross,” said Stybar.
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