Paris-Roubaix: Stybar hoping 'cross skills bring advantages

Zdenek Stybar says good legs are far and away the most important factor at Paris-Roubaix, but the Czech rider believes his cyclo-cross experience can hand him a small advantage on Sunday.

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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Patrick Fletcher
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.