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Stybar: The worlds favorite who isn’t

By Ryan Newill • Updated
Although not an outright favorite, Zdenek Stybar could become the first man to win both cyclocross and road race elite world championship titles. Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com

Zdenek Stybar is not an A-list favorite for the rainbow stripes, and he’s OK with that.

“I would prefer to surprise. Yeah, indeed, I think probably the top favorites I’m definitely not, but I think it’s a circuit that could suit me,” Stybar said at the joint Czech and Slovak press conference on Friday. “I think my condition is pretty OK, so it’s really just wait and see. I’d rather be the outsider than the favorite for the moment.”

In riding the Tour of Britain rather than the Vuelta a España or Canadian World Cup races as preparation for worlds, Stybar has largely sidestepped pre-worlds scrutiny, and remained less prominent in pre-race prognostications than riders like Peter Sagan, John Degenkolb, and Alexander Kristoff. But despite the relatively low profile, conditions in Richmond could give the three-time world cyclocross champion and rising classics star the opportunity to do what not even the great Roger De Vlaeminck could: add rainbow road bands to those he’s earned in the mud.

Stybar has not been a prolific winner this season, but he has turned in top performances against many of the top favorites in Richmond, Virginia. He delivered a win over worlds rival Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) in March’s Strade Bianche classic, and finished a close second to Degenkolb (Germany) at Paris-Roubaix. In his first Tour de France, he carried off stage 6 into La Havre with a cagey solo attack in the last 500 meters, foiling what looked like inevitable bunch sprint. With Richmond’s technical finale, could Stybar seize on another moment of hesitation to steal an even bigger prize from the sprinters?

“It’s really very difficult to predict how this race will go on. I think we’ll just have to see a little bit, and see what groups will go at the beginning of the race. Belgium have so many guys who could win, they can really play around. It will be, I think, really tough to control the end of the race.”

Rain predicted for Sunday’s race could make controlling things even tougher, and has many looking more closely at Stybar and Dutchman Lars Boom, another former ‘cross world champion turned road worlds outsider. While Stybar’s BMX and cyclocross background have provided him some of the best handling skills in the peloton, he’s not selling his road racing cohorts short.

“I think the circuit is pretty technical with the number of turns, so it’s definitely better to have the bike skills than not. But in the professional peloton it’s already a lot of guys with enough experience to handle their bikes, so I don’t think it will be against the big favorites any big advantage.”

Should the rains come as forecast, Stybar says, positioning will be key, particularly on the cobbled climbs of Libby Hill and 23rd Street, just minutes from the finish line.

“I think it will be more dangerous because you can see there’s some oil on the road, there are some technical turns, and we have to ride over the cobblestones. I think the steep parts will be tough to ride up it if there will be weather, not for the guys on the front, but I think on the back of the bunch probably it will be very tough to get up.”

Making sure Stybar is well positioned in key moments will be a strong seven-man Czech selection, short of the full nine-man complement enjoyed by the traditional European powers but entirely dedicated to his cause.

“In the end, we are with seven here. I think we have a good team, with Peter Vakoc who was very strong in Tour of Britain, Roman Kreuziger who was also going really good on the end of the season now. And also [Jan] Barta, he is strong, so I think we have a really good team if it will be necessary that we can work something out.

Should the Czechs work everything out in Richmond, Stybar will become the first man to wear stripes on both the road and in the mud.

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