Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) will ride his first cyclo-cross race of the winter when he lines out in next Sunday’s World Championships in Ostend, Belgium.
The three-time world champion had previously indicated that he would not participate in any cyclo-cross events this season, but he has reversed that decision amid uncertainty over the early part of the 2021 road calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was not expected that I would ride the Worlds this year, but things have evolved,” Stybar said in a statement released by his Deceuninck-QuickStep team on Monday.
“As we know this discipline is my passion, so after watching some races on television I felt in my stomach that I really wanted to race. It would not have normally fit in to my schedule, but things have changed and having done a lot of training my condition feels good.”
Stybar began the pandemic-interrupted 2020 road season with a stage victory at the Vuelta a San Juan last January and only finished his campaign at the Vuelta a España in November. Given the late conclusion to his season, he had initially decided not to race cyclo-cross this winter, but the spate of cancellations and postponements at the beginning of the 2021 season prompted a rethink.
Following the cancellation of the Vuelta a San Juan and Tour Down Under in January, a number of races due to take place in Europe have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, including Challenge Mallorca, Vuelta a Andalucía and Volta ao Algarve.
“I weighed up my options and discussed it with Patrick Lefevere, as well the team’s management, and I am very grateful to have received the team’s support. So, from there I started the process of preparing the materials and decided that I will go for it,” said Stybar.
The Czech won the cyclo-cross world title in 2010 and 2011 before switching his primary emphasis to the road after signing for QuickStep. He continued to make sparing cyclo-cross appearances, most notably in 2014, when he won the third world title of his career. He competed in nine cyclo-cross races last winter.
Stybar acknowledged that defending champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and three-time champion Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) would be the overwhelming favourites to claim the top two places in Ostend, but he suggested the race for the bronze medal would be keenly contested.
“The World Championships will always have a special feeling, as it is where I have started my career and I have my special victories at the event. I am not going there with the expectation of winning this time, but I will go flat out to push myself and try to get the best result possible,” Stybar said.
“There are two outstanding favourites in Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, but then after that it is a quite open race for third place. The parcours will be nice and not too technical and will suit powerful riders. This is good for me, and as my last block of training went really well, it means that I can try to push hard.”
The announcement of Stybar’s participation in the Worlds comes despite concerns that the race might not go ahead due to an outbreak of coronavirus cases in Oostende. The UCI has already confirmed that the junior events at the 2021 cyclo-cross Worlds have been cancelled, though the under-23 and elite races remain on the schedule.