PRAGUE, Czech Republic (VN) — Five months removed from his stunning performance at the London Games, where he outsprinted Nino Schurter of Switzerland on a steep ascent over the final 200 meters to claim Olympic gold, Jaroslav Kulhavy is back to serious training.
However, not surprisingly, the 28-year-old Czech rider’s thoughts often wander to that warm and breezy summer day in Essex on August 12th, when he became king of the mountain biking world.
“The memories of the Olympic race are still alive,” Kulhavy told VeloNews.
“I often attend different events where the finish of the race is shown and many people ask me about it. I think it was one of the most exciting races at the Olympic Games,” he said about the seven-lap, 33km race at the Hadleigh Farm venue, which was contested on the final Sunday of the Games.
Kulhavy, 28, who has attained most honors in his sport, recently ventured south, twice, from what has been a cold, grey, and damp winter in his native Czech Republic, to the more accommodating environs of Gran Canaria and Mallorca, Spain, for productive training.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 170-pound Czech mountain biker rode in Gran Canaria from December 8-18, mostly putting in kilometers on his road bike, before returning to his home in Usti nad Orlici, for the holidays. He returned to the south after the holidays to train in Mallorca until the end of January.
“I started training in early December, after a month break where I had nose surgery,” Kulhavy said, referring to a rhinoplasty he underwent at a Prague hospital in November.
Kulhavy was hit by a car while on a training ride on June 16, 2012, and admitted that he began dealing with breathing problems just prior to the Olympics.
“After this break, I wanted to return quickly to training and there are ideal conditions in the Canary Islands. Temperatures were about 25 degrees Celsius, which were much better than the minus-five degrees which were at the time in the Czech Republic,” Kulhavy said. “The Canary Islands, along with Mallorca, Spain, are my favorite places for winter training.”
In addition to his Olympic gold medal, Kulhavy’s resume includes winning the 2011 World Cup title and a cross-country world championship in Champery, Switzerland, that same season. As a junior, he captured a European championship and a world title in 2003.
Despite the temptation to transition to the road, Kulhavy recently decided to remain with mountain biking, desiring to defend his Olympic title come 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
“In mountain biking, I have won everything possible and that’s why I wanted to try another challenge in the form of road cycling,” Kulhavy said. “Races like the Tour de France, Giro [d’Italia], and others have always been my dream to try.
“I got an offer and began to think about it, but finally mountain biking won… I have achieved a lot of steps in mountain biking and would like to continue further. After the next Olympic Games I will be 31, so we’ll see about trying a big road race.
“Until then, my priority is to win everything that I’ve already won and defend my Olympic gold.”
Kulhavy also admitted that the recent doping scandals and ongoing controversies in road cycling contributed to his decision to remain on the fat tires.
“[Last] year the biggest scandals appeared, but I believe that everything is probably moving in the right direction and cycling is becoming a cleaner sport,” he said. “There is practically no doping in mountain biking and I know that clean riders win here. This is definitely an advantage for young riders. Doping and a bad name for road cycling were reasons that I have stayed in mountain biking.”
Regarding the season ahead, Kulhavy discussed his likely plans. He will open his season on February 23 with the first of three Cyprus Sunshine Cup races. He will race the March 1 and March 10 events as well.
“Other goals are the World Cup races, the most important being the second in Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic,” he said. “Then I am taking part in the marathon world championship and of course the [cross-country] world championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.”
Kulhavy also said he would make a trip to California to compete in April’s Sea Otter Classic followed by a visit to the Specialized Headquarters in Morgan Hill. In December, Kulhavy signed a two-year contract extension with Specialized Racing.
And who does Kulhavy believe will be his chief rivals in the season ahead and along the journey to Rio 2016?
“Every year many racers can appear at the top, but it will again be the ageless Julien Absalon and Olympic Games medalists Nino Schurter and Marco Fontana,” Kulhavy said. “As far as the Olympic Games in Rio, it is still so far away and several other talented young racers can appear.”
No matter who may stand in his way of further titles and accomplishments, Kulhavy exudes a quiet confidence and a continuing hunger to stay on top of the mountain biking world.
“I think racing now will be more relaxing for me and I want to enjoy it more,” he said. “I have fulfilled my dreams, but it doesn’t mean that I do not want to win anymore. With the approaching Olympics in Rio, I will once again become more and more nervous as it gets closer and I want to be successful again.”