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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews.com
Czech cyclocross star Zdenek Stybar will attempt to thrill a home crowd – and prove that his win last weekend wasn’t a fluke – when he lines up in the front row at World Cup No. 2 in Tabor on Saturday. The hour-long men’s race starts at 2 p.m. local time. There are no junior, under-23 or women’s races.
The 21-year-old Fidea rider was the surprise winner of round one last Sunday in Kalmthout, Belgium, breaking away solo on the second of 11 laps and never looking back. At the line Stybar had a comfortable 33-second cushion over second-placed Sven Nys (Rabobank), allowing plenty of time to grab a Czech Republic flag from a member of the crowd, then raise it triumphantly over his head to commemorate his first career World Cup win.
But now that the former under-23 world champion has shown the breadth of his talents, he isn’t likely to get the same loose leash in Tabor. Nys for one will certainly be more attentive, looking to grab back his place atop the World Cup and overall UCI standings. Currently Stybar is No.1 on the UCI list, with Nys three points back in second. Frenchman Francis Mourey (Francaise des Jeux) is third. A year ago Nys won seven of 11 World Cups, while no other rider earned more than a single win.
Jonathan Page will also be looking for a measure of redemption this weekend in Tabor. The American was 11th in Kalmthout and is definitely feeling the pressure that comes with a place on a top European ’cross squad. Page signed a two-year deal last spring with the Sunweb-Pro Job team, but has yet to post a result on par with his breakthrough second-place finish at last January’s world championships.
Page did manage to crack the top 10 on Tuesday at the UCI-rated C2 race in Woerden, the Netherlands, finishing six spots back of winner Erwin Vervecken (Fidea). Vervecken is another rider looking to climb out of an early season hole. The current world champion finished an undistinguished 22nd in Kalmthout, after battling mechanical problems for much of the race.
A year ago it was Czech rider Radomír Simunek grabbing the headlines in Tabor. Along with current Belgian national champion Bart Wellens (Fidea), the then neo-pro Palmans rider broke free from the field. Simunek then attacked Wellens on the last lap to take the win.
A week ago in Belgium, Simunek was 14th, while Wellens fought back from a late race puncture to finish sixth.
The home-country fans will also be keeping an eye on Petr Dlask (Fidea). The five-time Czech national champion was 27th in Kalmthout, but is always a podium threat, especially on home soil.
Early reports on the Tabor course are that if it’s dry it will be very fast. But there were reports of snow falling in the small city an hour south of Prague earlier in the week, meaning mud could be more of a factor than in 2006. That would fit well in the plans of Nys, who says the harder the course, the better he rides.
“When the race is fast and the weather is good then there are a lot of tactics, and I don’t like that,” explained Nys, who was outmanned by the star stacked Fidea team in Belgium. “I like more the races when it’s raining and it’s hard and there is big climbing.”
Check back to VeloNews.com on Saturday for a full report, results and photos.