Czech Radomir Simunek Sr. passed away today at the age of 48 after a prolonged battle with liver disease. Simunek was the Elite world cyclocross champion in 1991, and had previously taken both Junior and amateur Worlds titles. He remains the only cyclist to claim all three championships. Simunek also claimed three Superprestige titles, in 1991, 1992 and 1995, and was a four-time Czech national champ. He was named the Czech athlete of the year in 1991 and subsequently was honored as the best Czech cyclist of the 20th century.

“I knew his about his health, but his death still leaves a deep impression on me,” said reigning World Champion Zdeněk Štybar, the first Czech champion since Simunek himself in 1991. “He was a Czech icon and the reason I became a ‘crosser. He was certainly an inspiration to me.”

“My father was a great supporter of Simunek. He was very important for cyclocross in the Czech Republic; I wanted to be like him,” added Štybar, who spoke from his training camp in St. Moritz.

“This is much too early,” said Belgian Paul Herijgers, also a former world cyclocross champion born in the same year as Simunek, who remembered the Czech rider for his grace and power on the bike. “He was a real muscleman, who barely ever came out of the saddle. He always pounded away until just the right moment came. But he was also very technically gifted. In the finals he was always there, and he was a very fast finisher. And, of course, if you are a three-time world champion, naturally, you’re very clever.”

“If he said or promised something,” Herijgers continued, “you could be sure he would be there. Once my bikes were stolen in Prague and he gave me more bikes in time [to race].”

Simunek raced until he was 40 years old, partly to make up for an early career that was limited by the Communist regime in the former Czechloslovakia, which forbade him to race professionally until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  His racing career was also interrupted briefly in 1992 when he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for causing a traffic accident that killed three people.  He returned to professional cycling when he received a presidential pardon four months into his sentence.

After retiring from racing, Simunek turned his attention to coaching his son, Radomir Simunek Jr., who currently races for the BKCP-Powerplus team and is regularly a factor in Europe’s toughest races. Simunek Jr. was eighth in the World Championships in front of a home crowd in Tabor, Czech Republic, and finished in 12th in the season-long World Cup competition, ninth in the GvA, and seventh in the Superprestige, including a podium in Vorselaar.