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CX World Championships 2024 in Tábor

There it goes, another Cyclo-cross World Championships done and dusted. Mathieu van der Poel continues his almost perfect season run as he becomes cyclo-cross world champion for the sixth time, making sure he is the ‘reigning king of cross’.

The Cyclo-cross World Championships was nothing new to Tábor. The Czech town hosted the race on three previous occasions in 2001, 2010 and 2015. With the venue regularly also being featured on the World Cup calendar, Tábor establishes itself as one of the traditional courses of the sport.

The muddy conditions prevailing through the weekend proved that the course would be rather technical and slow, forcing riders to dismount through many corners and over some of the barriers, as jumping over them just seemed unrealistic. Probably not what some fans may have hoped for, as cyclo-cross bunny-hops over the barriers surely add excitement and unpredictability to the racing, with Wout van Aert’s incident in the last lap in Benidorm as a proof. It was in fact one of the toughest Tábor editions, as van der Poel acknowledged after the race, that properly put riders’ skills and stamina to the test while battling for the rainbow stripes.

The elite races won’t go down in history as close fierce battles this time. Van Empel confirmed her dominance in the Elite Women’s race, with Lucinda Brand and Puck Pieterse finishing more than a minute behind. The presence of only one of the ‘Big Three’ in the Men’s Elite race was yet another proof that the current gap between any of the three stars and the rest of the cyclo-cross field is staggering. Mathieu van der Poel led the race from the first corner and started building a gap on the rest early on, as he eventually cruised to victory with a 40 seconds gap to the second placed rider, Joris Nieuwenhuis. Michael Vanthourenhout ensured at least one Belgian finished on the podium.

Regardless of the nature of the elite races, the venue was filled with fans who came to enjoy this celebration of cycling. Crowds of local fans showed up and altogether with the many foreign spectators, arriving mainly from Belgium and the Netherlands, created a vivid atmosphere, making a point that they can put up a great show just like at the most famous Belgian and Dutch cyclo-cross races.

Sympathetically, the spectators’ attention was not only on the elite races. The crowds spontaneously cheered on during other races too, especially when the local young stars Kryštof Bažant and Kristýna Zemanová claimed podium placement on Sunday to the delight of the home crowd. Bažant finished 3rd in the Men Juniors’s race and Zemanová claimed silver in the Women’s U23 one.

One particular name was heard from the mouths of commentators perhaps even more often than the name of Mathieu van der Poel himself. It was Zdeněk Štybar, who was riding his last professional race on Sunday. The three-time world cyclo-cross champion from 2010, 2011 and 2014 announced his retirement ahead of the Worlds. Although he was not in contention for the title this time anymore, he proved he has always been popular among Czech and Belgian cycling fans, as they cheered him on throughout the race with the same passion they cheered for the race leaders.

It was indeed him, who once set up probably the first career story of a successful transition from cyclo-cross to road racing, later inspiring van der Poel and van Aert, the generation that came after him and took this approach to an even higher level.

Once the Men’s medal ceremony was over, Stybar was invited to the podium together with his close ones to officially hang up his bike into retirement. His career came full circle, as it was here in Tábor where he claimed his first World Championship title in 2010 in front of his home crowd. A lovely moment to relive his palmares with the fans on the closing of a well-organized championships.