Feeling that he had no choice after being side-lined with a knee injury during the season, Zdenek Stybar focused his whole season on the Cyclocross World Championships in 2011.
It worked. The Czech rider won his second consecutive rainbow jersey in St Wendel, Germany.
“I play everything on one card.” the 25-year old explained after the race on Sunday. He made his decision in early December that there was no other solution to salvage his season. “That’s a such a big risk, you are just working so long for just one hour and in that one hour can happen, even some supporter he threw [a branch] just beside me from a tree so it is sometimes that you just don’t expect can happen but…”
That brought a quick question from the media surrounding him after the press conference. Whose supporter? “I don’t know I didn’t look behind me.” Styby laughed.
A pressing question for the Belgian press especially after the Niels Albert incident last year when he was taken down by a supporter and injured his rib, a fan that was initially identified as a Sven Nys supporter.
Stybar continued, “I don’t want to say that he did it on purpose, I want to say that it can happen, just one supporter will look on the right side, he’ll fall and everything is gone for what you were working so hard for and so long for.”
Two World Championships in a row, the first on an icy course in Tabor in his home-country of the Czech Republic and the second, on a tough, fast course in Germany. For Stybar, last year’s race was much more difficult mentally. “I got lots of pressure from the Czech journalists, from Belgian journalists, from others.”
“In the last two years, I hate two words, one is Tabor and the second one is knee. Those are two words that I really hate because I am allergic to those two words because I hear it so often, I hear it everyday maybe fifty times and so now, I am happy that Tabor is only on my helmet and on my bike and that I don’t have to say too much anymore.”
The knee problems started off with a crash during a training ride in early November after he dominated the early racing season. With the problem persisting, he stayed away from racing and made his way to Majorca prior to Christmas.
“I trained there everyday with really a lot of pain, I couldn’t train more than one and half hour in one time but I just trained three times, one a half hour and then trained two or three times two hours a day and like that, I just came through. I was really training there with a lot of pain, already before Christmas just on the knee.” Then, pain or no pain, Stybar decided to push it. “But one night I say ‘oh okay I just don’t care, the knee it can break’, I just go through all these ten days and I will come out of the training camp and I will be good or the season will be over.”
He returned to racing to finish third at Superprestige Diegem in December,a few more races and then back to Majorca. With the pursuit the rainbow, he elected to skip the Pont Château World Cup to the displeasure of many expressed publicly in the Belgian media.
“I didn’t ride in Pont Chateau because I was really riding and training as hard as I could in Majorca. Maybe even some people didn’t believe when I put on my twitter account how many hours I trained there, even some journalists took pictures and I think people didn’t really believe that I could keep it but I knew towards what I’m working.” he explained. “It was everything only for one race because that was the only way how I could make my season good.”
Looking back though, Stybar does not think that the problem with his knee was a blessing in disguise. “If you have health problems, if you’re injured, it is not that you are relaxing, it is not that you are laying on your bed just waiting saying ‘oh I will win world champion’ it’s just not like that, you have to really work hard for it.”
Though he put his whole season on one 60-minute race, Stybar tweeted the day before the race that he was not nervous.
“Mostly I am nervous because I am not nervous.” he smiled. “I am nervous that come on let the stress come because yesterday I was really not stressed at all, this morning absolutely not, I say come on. I really have to say I was more stressed before first race of the season, at my place where I live, there I was really much more nervous as today.”
He doesn’t know if his lack of nerves was a good sign or a bad sign. “When you are nervous sometimes it means like psst [you don't care]. The first race in your city and you just don’t know how your shape is, if the material is all working, it’s just something that you don’t expect what is going to happen. Today I just went to the race okay I did everything that I had to, I had one big win, two big wins this week.”
His two big wins were signing with his new team and the second a gift that obviously touched him “I got some book with all letters from all the team that has been working with me, from my trainer, psychologist, mechanic, so that some book that I got and everybody wrote there some personal letter. That was my second win because I knew that they don’t me as a world champion, as a athlete but also as a person and really yesterday that was my personal insight of the heart winning and that was also maybe I was going into this race so relaxed.”
Now onto the road. The saga of Stybar’s wish to race on the road with new team has been played in the media for months.
“It was a very difficult situation from the beginning, I was fighting to make my contract longer, more than one year and three months. It was finished this week and I said already that it was a really nice boost for my head and for my legs as well.”
Six years ago, Stybar signed with Telenet-Fidea after winning his second U23 World title in St Wendel. And now he leaves the team with another rainbow jersey, coming full circle. “I came to the Telenet-Fidea team as World Champion in 2005, it was also here in St Wendel, and I leave them again as World Champion, again in St Wendel in 2011. I think I was four times World champion in Telenet-Fidea team and I think I couldn’t give more to them as I did.”
And it was finally made official a few days before the Worlds race, Stybar is joining Quick Step for 3 years starting March 2011.
“It was really my big dream to go to such a big team as Quick Step, I think it will be just a new world for me.” he said. “It is something like I signed a contract with Telenet-Fidea team here in St Wendel when I was sitting first time at the same table with Bart Wellens and Erwin Vervecken and other stars from the team. For me, I was really shy just to sit besides them, I was just a guy from the Czech Republic who didn’t know those guys personally just from the television and from the interviews because they were my idols.”
But he’s ready and looking forwards to new challenges. “It is just again one step higher and it will be probably the same, I want to go there and I want to try and feel again the pain on the road. I’m really motivated for it, you know maybe after three years I will say okay it was a mistake but on the other hand when I will be older and at the end of my career, I won’t probably get the chance anymore and I would be very disappointed at the end of my career if I cannot ride the biggest races in the world.”
But what about cross? Will the rainbow jersey be seen at cross races next year? His answer was a quick, brief and emphatic “Yes.”
At just 25 years of age and two world titles, is he thinking of breaking the record held by Eric de Vlaeminck with 7? He laughed and quickly replied “no, no, no”
“You cannot say like that, it’s the World Championship, it’s always a special race, anything can happen. It’s only one hour of your life and actually in the life it means not so much the one hour but the next twelve months mean so much. In that hour, everything has to go one hundred percent because, as I said, there can happen so many factors that you can lose the race or if you just less than half a percent than your competitors, [then] you cannot win the World Championships. I want to say when there will be next World Championship, I’m going to try to win but I’m not going to think about any records.”
The charming and affable world champion stayed and answered the media’s questions for as long as he could before rushing to doping control. But he wasn’t done, his plans that night included talking with sporza.be live and then a celebration.
But before he can feel the pain on the road again, Stybar has a few more cross races to do in his new rainbow jersey.