Every year Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick-Step) inches closer to the trophy that is handed to the winner of Paris-Roubaix. After a sixth place during his debut in 2013, and fifth last year, Stybar finished as runner-up in the sprint for victory on the legendary Roubaix vélodrome behind John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin).
But when Stybar walked off the podium he wasn't showing his usual smiley demeanor. He realised that he missed out on the big win he dreamed about.
"Right now I'm a little bit disappointed as I came very close to winning this race. When you go in the sprint with John Degenkolb, who's one of the fastest guys in the peloton, then you know it's going to be really hard. Still I believed in it. I got second. It's a double feeling. If you're so close you want to win.
"It's my big dream to win this race and the Tour of Flanders. I'm working very hard for it. It'’s the third time I participate. Now I was sixth, fifth and second so I hope one day that I will win this race," Stybar said.
On the podium he seemed somewhat emotional when standing next to Degenkolb who lifted the cobblestone trophy in the air. “If you're so close there's disappointment. It's really nice to come here to fight for the first place on the vélodrome of Roubaix. It's a pity that I couldn't take the cobblestone above my head but I get very close and I hope that one day I can do it."
After coming off the Templeuve cobbles at more than 30 kilometres from Roubaix he reacted to the attack from Bradley Wiggins (Sky). Stybar bridged up to the Sky-rider who was riding his final road race for the team.
Much later in the race Stybar bridged up to the lead group that featured his teammate Yves Lampaert, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and John Degenkolb at less than 5 kilometres from the vélodrome.
"I knew that John was the fastest guy. I had Yves Lampaert in front who did an incredible job for me. He tried to ride away which was a perfect situation for me. Yves Lampaert truly did an excellent job for me. The guys from our team we all really strong. They did everything for their leader."
The former cyclo-cross world champion regretted making big efforts before the final kilometres but he also realised that without those efforts he would have been caught behind the lead group.
"In the last kilometres I tried to recover. John had to bridge up alone although he received some support from his teammate. I had to do it alone. That's what happens in racing. Sometimes you have to take risks.
"If I'll look back at this race, I'll see that I had to do two big efforts. I closed the gap on Wiggins which wasn't easy," Stybar said while releasing a sigh.
"Then a second time to close the gap on the first group. Those were two massive efforts. It did't cost me the victory I think because John had to bridge up to the front too. He simply was the strongest man in the race."
In the sprint on the vélodrome Stybar was perfectly led out by his young teammate Yves Lampaert but he was blown away by Degenkolb. Stybar thought back about his sprint over and over again without finding answers.
"I don't know what I could have done different. Maybe I should have gone earlier. Maybe I should've kept him above the red line," Stybar said, sighing again. "He came back over me so quickly. It left me without an answer. It was so difficult. I think that John is so fast that he would win in any way in the sprint. John was really very strong today. You know that when you get in a sprint with him it will be really difficult to beat him."