After a sixth place last year in Paris-Roubaix, the fifth place in this year's race confirmed the capabilities of Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) on the cobbles. In the sprint for second place, he finished too far back to climb up onto the podium with his teammate and winner Niki Terpstra. The Czech rider had mixed emotions about his ride since he felt more was possible, not only in the Queen of Classics but also in the other Classics.
"I'm happy I was able to confirm that I can ride the finale in the hardest races of the world, but of course every year you want a little bit more. Now I improved one place so I have five years to go," said Stybar, laughing. "I always had the legs for a better result. I was always there, but didn't get great results. Today I'm fifth but [making] the podium would've been better. It came down to a sprint and that's always a lottery."
"I'm pleased that someone from our team won the race. It was a very hard race to control. It was the perfect moment [for Terpstra] to go. He came from behind and went immediately. You could see that there was nobody with the legs to close the gap."
Having not only Tersptra and Stybar in the lead group but also Tom Boonen offered the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team a numerical advantage over the other riders in the breakaway. Though Terpstra won, it was obvious that Stybar also had the opportunity to launch an attack late in the race.
"As you could see, you have to go on a good place at the right moment. Then everything is possible. We were there with three guys and then it's just [about picking] the moment to go. Niki was really strong because doing five kilometres alone is not really easy."
Before there was a lead group of 11 riders in the final kilometres, Stybar had already featured up front as only rider of his team, but then he opted not to co-operate in a break, much to annoyance of Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin).
"I was in front, but I also knew that Tom was behind with Niki. There was no reason for me to pull. I was just following. I was always trying to break the group, so that it would stop or when someone went, it was a good opportunity to just follow and come to the group in front," Stybar said.
While Vanmarcke and Cancellara were probably good companions, the presence of fast men John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) might have felt like bad company. "Exactly," Stybad said when queried.
The 28-year-old was delighted to know he could keep up with the best on the cobbles. "Already since Paris-Nice, I'm in good shape. I could follow them. There were always some gaps which I had to close, so I was never really in their wheel. It cost me a lot of energy but I always did it. I was always with them when they tried to get in the breakaway. It makes me happy that I could follow the best guys in the race."
While most pavé specialists will opt now to take a break, Stybar is scheduled to be racing the Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday and then the Amstel Gold Race next week. Making the transition from the big gear on the cobbles to the small gear over the long climbs in the Limburg region troubles many riders. Stybar is curious to see how he will dealt with it.
"Normally I do the Amstel. Now it's difficult. My whole body is shaking. You never know how it will go, but I want to try. It will be hard to recover and make the transition from the cobbles to the Amstel, but I think I will succeed. Tomorrow I will go there to check and I will train there on my climbs. I hope I will be ready for Amstel. We will have a very strong team."