Stybar used to specialise in the off-road discipline and picked up no fewer than three world championship titles before switching his priorities to road cycling. Since then, he has notched three top 10 finishes from three participations at Roubaix and is planning to put his skills to good use once again on the bumpy, dusty – and possibly muddy – pavé of the Hell of the North.
“It’s very difficult for me to say if I have an advantage in Roubaix. For me it feels pretty natural, everything I do on a bike,” Stybar told Cyclingnews at an Etixx-QuickStep media gathering on Friday.
“But to be up front at Roubaix you need also a lot of really good condition. I think I can save some energy just by choosing the right line, and maybe being more relaxed. But still, it’s all about the legs.”
Stybar said he doesn’t plan which line to take through the various pavé sectors, preferring to race on instinct.
“If you are riding alone it’s so different riding with the bunch. Somehow I just change even from left to right, or in the middle. It’s not that you can say ‘it’s better to ride in the middle or on the sides’; its just you have to see during the race,” he said.
Stybar was one of three riders positioned on the top table for the Etixx press conference, him and Niki Terpstra sitting either side of Tom Boonen. That leadership trio makes up arguably the strongest cobbled Classics team out there at the moment but a major win – save for Marcel Kittel’s Scheldeprijs sprint – has so far eluded them this spring.
“I think we’ve always been a bit unlucky,” Stybar said. “Maybe we’ve missed the one per cent to go with the strongest guys. For example in E3 Harelbeke I believe that if I didn’t have a flat tyre I could have gone with [Michal] Kwiatkowski and [Peter] Sagan. Also in Flanders the final happened a bit strangely.
“As I said, we’re lacking a little bit [compared] to the best guys and also a little bit of the luck.”
While there are signs that Boonen, now 35 is a fading force, Stybar’s results at Roubaix – 6th in 2013, 5th in 2014, 2nd last year – point to a rider on the rise and on the verge of a breakthrough.
That said, the 30-year-old backed up what the seating plan suggested – that Boonen will be the protected rider but that all three would combine to multiply the team’s chances in the finale.
“We will see how many guys are in front. I think Tom is feeling really good, so we’ll see where he is and what we can do for him, or how the group is at the front in the final. Of course we must see who is in the best position but for him we are riding. Let’s hope that now on Sunday it will work out.”
Part of the conundrum for the trio will be nullifying Peter Sagan, rampant last week at the Tour of Flanders.
“It seems like he’s unbeatable,” said Stybar of the world champion. “When you see how he’s riding, he doesn’t just have a strong sprint; he’s really explosive on short climbs. In Roubaix that’s not the case but it will still be difficult to beat him.
“But must try – and we have some serious chances.”
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