Cycling Legend Zdeněk Štybar Rides Last Race in Cross World Championships

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Sunday’s Cyclo-cross Elite Men’s World Championship will be notable not only for crowning a new world champion but it will also be the last race of cyclo-cross and road racing legend Zdeněk Štybar. The 38-year-old Czech will retire from cycling after having won three Elite men’s cyclo-cross world championships (2010, 2011, 2014) and two U-23 world titles (2005, 2006).

From 2011 to 2022, he was also an important member of the Quick-Step team that chalked up more wins than any other team in that period, almost entirely in one-day races, such as Grand Tour stages, the Classics, and world and national championships. In that period, in addition to his many cyclo-cross victories, Štybar won a stage of the Tour de France (2015) and three Classics, the Strade Bianche (2015), the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 BinckBank Classic (both in 2019).

We spoke to the native of Planá by phone as he was returning by car from his final cyclo-cross World Cup race, in Hoogerheide, for which he wore a special jersey on which “thank you” had been printed in many languages. “It was special,” he said, “because it was my last World Cup race.” He finished 27th, 3:13 behind the winner, Mathieu van der Poel.

For Štybar, who still sets himself a high bar, the result was disappointing. “To be honest, I expected a bit more but I had some technical issues directly after the start. And I’m always starting from the last rows, which makes it quite difficult for me. I did expect more because the shape is good.” Štybar added that he has done everything he could do “to be in the best shape possible for the world championships. So I hope that with some days of rest, the shape will come and I’ll be able to perform at a good level.”

Asked which discipline he prefers, cyclo-cross or road racing, he said, “Both because both have different characteristics.” He liked cyclo-cross “because you’re in one place for a cyclo-cross race, so you can enjoy it more with your family and your supporters,” he said. “But on the road, it’s from the hotel to the bus and from the bus to the race and then back to the hotel. But with road racing, you’re racing as a team, which is also good. I think I took some great memories from both disciplines.”

Zdeněk Štybar
The 2024 UCI Cyclo-cross Elite Men’s World Championship will be notable not only for crowning a new world champion but it will also be the last race of cyclo-cross and road racing legend Zdeněk Štybar.

As for his best memories, Štybar put winning the cyclo-cross world championships at the top, including the two wins from U23. “But also all the races we won as a team at Quick-Step,” he added. “Because, basically, we won everything that we could. And I was part of many victories with this team. Those were special moments because we always shared our happiness as a team. We worked very hard and we managed to win all those races.”

He said that preparing for road and cyclo-cross were different. “For cyclo-cross, you need really good basic condition because the season is very long. To maintain the shape, you need a lot of long-distance training. But, of course, it’s much more explosive [than road], so you need to be able to ride one hour flat out. And you need a lot of athletic preparation for cyclo-cross, a powerful body, not only strong legs and back, as on the road. But both disciplines demand many hours of training.”

Štybar said that his Tour de France stage win was special, especially as his son was born two weeks before that victory. “Those were amazing weeks,” he said. Asked if that had given him extra motivation, he replied, “I don’t think so. But, of course, it changes your mentality when you go to the start. It changes something in your head when you suddenly have a child. But it’s not like you can suddenly ride 5 kilometres faster.”

He said that he started cycling competitively at the age of 4 and then went through all the disciplines: road, track, MTB, gravel. “I tasted all the forms of cycling. It was very nice to try everything.” He does not consider himself a model for today’s generation of young multidiscipline riders such as Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. “They were just so strong [in off-road competitions] that the road teams came for them,” Štybar said. “They are among the three best riders in the world, so it was a logical step for them to go from cyclo-cross to the road because road racing is the queen discipline of cycling.”

Leaving the sport, he said, “brings together many emotions because it was my life for the last 35 years. So, to lose this lifestyle and all those memories will be very tough.” Štybar said that he had mixed feelings about it. “On the one hand, I think it’s the right moment to stop. And on the other hand, it’s a big change to my life, and also to the family life. And it’s not like I’m ready for it. Definitely not. I could race one more year. I’m still motivated and I can still perform well.”