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The Czech star should know. The last time the CX worlds were contested on the Hoogerheide circuit in 2014, he won in a thrilling tug-of-war with Sven Nys.
Now racing with the tires firmly planted on the pavement, Štybar said the elite men’s race could go either way between favorites Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert.
The winner? It’s a toss-up.
“It’s 50-50. They are very equal and they are so strong,” Stybar told VeloNews. “I am sure Van der Poel is peaking for the worlds, but Van Aert will be peaking as well. It will be an interesting race.”
Štybar won his third world title on the same course, and though there are some important tweaks compared to when he won, he said the course sets up a tactical and physical race.
“It will be very exciting. In 2014 I won on that circuit, and I have great memories,” Štybar said. “I am curious who can win. It can be muddy or fast, with a lot of running. It depends on the weather. It is amazing how they are racing. It is a big show for the spectators.”
Štybar, who debuted his 2023 season with Jayco-AlUla at the Saudi Tour, was among a new generation of riders more than a decade ago who came out of cyclocross to transition into road racing.
Though he continued to dabble in cyclocross once he committed to road racing, especially in his 2014 win, Štybar said he’s impressed with how the likes of Van Aert, Van der Poel, and Tom Pidcock are juggling various disciples and proving to be so successful.
Štybar said teams are being more tolerant and relaxed about racing schedules in order to find room for the stars to ply their trade across a variety of terrain.
Štybar said he could never skip the classics “opening weekend” due to road sponsor demands, while pointing out that a rider like Van Aert can wait until Strade Bianche in March to transition to the road.
“They are showing the way to the young guys they can combine cyclocross and the road season,” he said. “They are improving their shape for road racing. They go for it, and they start later with the season at Strade Bianche. That’s a good move for them to take it a little easier after the worlds and the classics.”
Štybar raced a handful of cyclocross races this winter, but is fully committed to the road season with his high-profile move to Jayco-AlUla.
Štybar joked that he hopes the hard push this weekend will be a factor this spring.
“Everyone is enjoying watching them,” Stybar said. “I am happy to see it, and I hoping they will be a little tired for the classics.”