Bringing it all back home.
When Zdeněk Štybar speaks to Cyclingnews on Monday afternoon, he is stopped somewhere on the endless expanse of the German Autobahn, making the long journey back to the Czech Republic from the previous day’s World Cup in Hoogerheide.
Štybar has travelled roads like this more often than he can remember in a career of journeys: from cyclocross to the Classics, from his native Planá to the Tour de France.
Now the only date left on his calendar is the Cyclocross World Championships on Sunday. His last journey as an elite athlete is to Tábor and a final farewell with his family and friends.
The finality of the occasion is something he’s just about managed to sidestep so far, largely by focusing on the minutiae of the here and now. He had a training camp in Mallorca the other week, for instance, followed by a few days on the Tábor course with the Czech national team. He remains a competitor until the last. Civilian life can wait until Monday.
“You know, somehow I still don’t really realise,” Štybar tells Cyclingnews.
“In Hoogerheide, when I passed the line, I was a little bit emotional, but it was because all the people were cheering for me. It was one moment, but on the other hand, I’ve been busy trying to be in the best shape possible. I’m too busy to really realise it’s the end. I think it will all come later, but right now I’m too busy to realise it.”
Even so, Štybar felt compelled to mark his final World Cup race at Hoogerheide.
Since the expiry of his contract with Jayco-Alula on December 31, he has been riding as a privateer, and he was able to find at least one upside to being without a salary. Finally free of sponsorship obligations, he availed of the space on his kit to give a shout-out to his family, friends and supporters on Sunday in a variety of languages – Thank you. Danke. Děkuji.
“I always took lots of the glory but the people around me never got to be in the picture, so I wanted to thank them like that,” Štybar says.
“And let’s face it, I was not responsible to anyone, I was riding for myself, so I just thought it would be something I could do to thank the people who supported me for all of my career.”
Injury and illness fractured the last three years of Štybar’s career into a frustrating piecemeal of comebacks, and his lone season at Jayco-Alula was itself cloven in two by double iliac artery surgery in April. Although he returned to the peloton by August, it was too late to patch…