World Champion Zdenek Stybar is hoping to keep his jersey for another year. © Bart Hazen

World Champion Zdenek Stybar to mix mud with asphalt © Bart Hazen

Current world cyclocross champion Zdenek Stybar has been the source of many rumors lately, with ’cross fans the world over wondering if the champ was trading in his knobbies for slicks. Well, today the Telenet-Fiedea rider confirmed the whispers by announcing his new contract with Quick Step, which will begin officially on March 1st, with his race debut coming in May at either the Tour of California or Tour of Belgium. Stybar has signed on to the ProTour team through 2013.

“Personally it’s a dream come true. I’m very happy and excited to race with Team Quick Step, one of the best team in the world,” Stybar said in a Quick Step press release. “This is an important step in my professional life that will offer me many opportunities and open doors for me into the professional world. I’m still trying to absorb what’s happened. I’ve won a lot in cyclocross, but I really wanted to try this experience. I’m 25 years old, and right now it’s time for me to try to understand what I can do on the road.”

If that last sentence left you in tears, Stybar had this to say, as well: “All that does not mean I am leaving cyclocross.” Let’s hope not!

Stybar has made no secret of his desire to ride the classics on the road, and his team has intimated possibilities of using him in the Tour of California and Tour of Belgium stage races as well. Also on the Czech’s radar in the 2012 Olympic MTB race in London, something that the Quick Step team has said it will give him the flexibility to do.

“Zdenek is a talented guy whose skills will surely raise the team’s technical level,” said Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere in a team statement. “It was our pleasure to accept his request to road race; he really wants this. At 25 he’s at a crucial stage of his sporting life. For our part, we’re going to try to help him as best we can to approach this new world without burning any stages and without too much pressure, with a schedule that also takes into consideration a learning phase.”

Negotiations for Stybar’s contract between Quick Step and his current Telenet-Fidea team included the possibility of Quick Step buying out the entire program in order to get the Czech star. The contract between Stybar and Telenet-Fidea ends in February, 2011, but gives the team the first right of refusal. Manager of the Telenet-Fidea squad Hans van Kasteren matched Quick Step’s initial offer of 525,000 euro, but was unable to match a subsequent offer, rumored at 575,000 euro.

Stybar will ride for the Telenet-Fidea squad for the upcoming World Championships and through the end of February before switching kits on March 1st.

“As far as my schedule, I’m taking it one step at a time. I have to learn a lot, almost everything. This is why we’ve worked out a schedule that doesn’t keep me too busy to start with, that gives me time to grow slowly. At the moment, though, all my energy is concentrated on Sunday’s World Championships. I’m going to do my best to win it, for me and Telenet-Fidea team,” said Stybar. “I’ll never forget the time I spent with this squad. I started with them in 2005, right there in St. Wendel where I became Under 23 world champion, and I’ll be ending my experience with them once again in that little German town. I’d love to leave this important prize as a gift to the team and to our sponsors. I’d like to thank everybody for the years we spent together, but I think it’s time for me to try my hand at road racing.”