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A cyclocross racer at heart, Stybar may compete at ’cross worlds

The 28-year-old got his start in cyclocross and only joined the road ranks full-time in 2011

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CALPE, Spain (VN) — Road racing is the present and future for Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), but cyclocross remains close to his heart.

The two-time world cyclocross champion now has his sights set on the spring classics and a possible debut in the Tour de France later this summer, but the 28-year-old Czech rider will always include some mud fun as part of his professional trajectory.

“I will always race cyclocross. It’s very good training, and it’s also a lot of fun,” Stybar told VeloNews. “I will always keep it part of my training and racing program. This year, I did six races, and the crowds were so much fun. It’s a unique atmosphere.”

Stybar skipped defending his Czech national jersey, ending a seven-year run that began in 2008. And the big question now is whether or not he will race the world championships, scheduled for February 1-2 in the Netherlands.

“I will wait to decide at the last moment,” he said. “I will wait until Wednesday or maybe even Thursday. What is important is the weather. If it’s going to be raining for two weeks, and it’s going to be a running race, I will not participate because it makes no sense. I cannot train for running for two weeks before the worlds.

“I like the circuit and it’s good for me, but I am doubting,” he continued. “It’s a nice race for me, because it’s close to my girlfriend’s house, but I will wait until the last moment to decide.”

Stybar is entering his fourth season on the road with Omega Pharma, but he’s keeping an eye on the cyclocross world, including the ongoing debate about whether or not it should be included as an event in the Winter Olympics.

New UCI president Brian Cookson said he would press the idea during an upcoming visit with IOC members during a stop in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Stybar said the inclusion of cyclocross as an Olympic sport would elevate the discipline worldwide.

“I absolutely think it’s a good idea,” he said. “If it would become an Olympic sport, it would get a lot of attention from other riders. It would open another door for the sport.”

Even if he does race the worlds, Stybar’s focus and training is centered on the road racing calendar, with the spring classics and a possible Tour de France start looming for 2014.

Last season, Stybar enjoyed a breakout season, winning a stage at the Vuelta a España, a stage and the overall at the Eneco Tour, and riding to sixth in his debut on the cobblestones at Paris-Roubaix.

“I had everything last season, some good results, but also I had knee surgery, which kept me out of the Tour,” he said. “I have to say I was happy that I could prove I perform on the road. It was a confirmation that I was on the right way.”

When he switched to the road full-time in the 2011 season, Stybar admitted it took time to find his groove. Transferring the hard, aerobic one-hour effort of cyclocross to the longer, punishing demands of road racing proved more difficult than he expected.

“I started pretty late on the road, so the kilometers are not in the body. On the road, there are a lot of accelerations, position, knowing the races, and the tactics,” he said. “It took me awhile to catch up, and stage races proved the hardest part. But last year showed I can do it. I am more motivated than ever.”

For this season, his first focus is returning to the northern classics. Following his impressive ride at Roubaix, where he rode to sixth, he’s excited about what lies ahead, but insisted the team first rallies around Tom Boonen.

“Tom Boonen is the absolute favorite and absolute leader, so we have to do everything for him. There is no question about that,” he said. “You never know how the race can develop. We go there to help Tom to win.”

After the classics, Stybar is hoping to race the Tour, which would be a personal pinnacle in a career that’s already had its fair share of highlights.

“I hope to go to the Tour. Last year I was close, but I had knee surgery. It’s a dream of every cyclist just to go there. I would help Cav in the sprints, but there is always a chance to take your own chance,” he said.

Stybar said cyclocross will always remain close to his heart. In fact, with his success on the mud, he’s more often recognized walking the streets of Flanders than he is in his native Czech Republic.

But he said that’s starting to change, as the sport is enjoying a boom back in the Czech Republic.

“Growing up in Czech Republic, there wasn’t much news about cycling. Cyclocross in those days was bigger than the road. It’s growing a lot now. The Tour is on TV now. People are riding and racing bikes,” he said. “It was such a surprise when I moved to Belgium, because everyone lives for the sport. I am better known in Belgium than in Czech Republic. But now the people know the names, they know who I am. It’s changing very fast. My friends who own bike shops tell me how the businessmen are coming in and buying $10,000 bikes.”

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