This thread is dedicated to Echoes, possibly the only (living ) CN user I miss here on VR
Today's Four Days of Dunkirk marks the start of former Cyclo Cross World Champion Zdenek Stybar's 2012 road campaign. The Czech is not exactly new to road racing, having quietly ridden his inaugural season last year, but when the flag drops this morning there will be much more at stake.
Leaving Telenet-Fidea for QuickStep in 2011 was a clear statement of intent from Stybar. He made noises about tackling the cobbled classics before taking a well-earned break while they were contested. Once refreshed, his road début at Dunkirk was impressive and he eventually finished third overall, looking as natural on the podium of a road race as he had so many times before in 'cross. Then, just a few months after securing his national champion's jersey on the grass, he followed up with another third in the race for the Czech road title, won by the veteran Petr Benčík.Leap of faith: Stybar's 2012 road season could be key to his long-term career
Having finally eschewed a full-time cyclo-cross career in which he cannot set the bar much higher, the success of Stybar's road season this year may well define the pattern of his career. The Czech now follows in the footsteps other notable moonlighters, including Adri Van Der Poel and most recently Lars Boom.
Van der Poel should prove an ideal model to emulate: the imposing Dutchman began life on the 80s road scene as a sprinter, winning Tour de France stages and vying for the green jersey, before developing into a formidable Classics hardman. Riding cyclo-cross events throughout the winter, Van der Poel took the Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Amstel Gold Race before once again devoting himself solely to the grass and a rainbow jersey in the twilight of his career.Like father, like son: Mathieu Van der Poel is now a crosser like his Dad, pictured here in his road heyday
Unlike Van der Poel, not all 'crossers who made the leap avoided getting soggy. Following youthful success on knobbly tyres, Mario De Clercq embarked on a very modest road career before making the u-turn that brought him three World Championship cyclo-cross titles. Despite reaffirming this year that he prefers to be seen as a road rider, Lars Boom has achieved only infrequent success since making the transition, in stark contrast to his former dominance off-road.
Meanwhile some riders glued to cyclo-cross might do very well out of a shift to the asphalt. Niels Albert and Tom Meeusen are both still young but they have shown themselves very capable in their pre-cross season outings on the road.Seeing the light: but will CX World Champion Albert ever try out on the road full-time?
So if it's true that there can be few new challenges left for Stybar in cyclo-cross, he has everything to do out on the road. While many fans will be sad to see him leave the full-time 'cross circuit, this latest transition is surely a big gain for road racing. And as the peloton rolls out of Dunkirk and heads into the strong winds of Northern France, Stybar will be hoping that it's a big gain for him too.