After all the disappointment of a near-miss at Paris-Roubaix - with all chance of a podium finish lost through no fault of his own when he collided late on with an over-enthusiastic spectator - and the delight of taking his first WorldTour stage race this August, Zdenek Stybar’s roller coaster 2013 season hit a new high on Friday with his first Grand Tour stage win on stage 7 of the Vuelta a España.
It has been quite a busy 24 hours for rainbow jersey wearers in the Vuelta. On Thursday Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quick-Step), reigning world time trial champion, was pipped to the line by a former track world champion, Michael Morkov (Saxo-Tinkoff), with former world TT champ Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) leading the last surge for the line and taking third. Then on Friday, Stybar, twice a former world cyclo-cross champion, had the better the reigning world road champion, Gilbert (BMC).
“It was very tough to beat him,” Stybar said. “When I got in the break, I was always thinking about how I could do the finale, I tried to keep some energy back, but I didn’t launch the sprint perfectly.”
“I won though, even if you win by one centimetre or one millimetre, it’s winning that matters.”
Stybar’s sixth place in Paris-Roubaix came after he was brought to a halt on the Carrefour d’Arbre and deprived of fighting for what likely would have been a top three result, even if Fabian Cancellara was by that point unreachable and the top spot in Roubaix velodrome long decided. The normally loquacious 28-year-old gave his one short answer of the whole winner's press conference when asked if victory in the Vuelta acted as some kind of compensation for his bad luck in April.
“No,” he replied bluntly. “It doesn’t make up for it. Paris-Roubaix is next year, and that’s where I’ll have my revenge.”
He also insisted, like several other riders, that the twisting, technical finale of the Vuelta had been anything but risk-free. “For a bunch of 200 riders, with cobblestones and sharp turns, for sure it was dangerous.”
Still, after a lengthy spell away from racing because of a post-Classics knee injury and operation, Stybar is experiencing a golden second half of the season. He recovered so well he could first take the Eneco Tour and two stages in August, and in the Vuelta he has now become one of the few riders able to beat Philippe Gilbert in a two-man duel.
Part of the inspiration for doing so, he said, came from Omega Pharma teammate Tony Martin’s agonizing near miss the previous day. “It was so amazing, he nearly made it, he could have been a legend,” Stybar said.
“But at the finish we all gave each other hugs and talked it over at dinner. We all felt disappointed, but we were also very motivated. That’s what makes us a strong team.”