The Quick-Step Floors team failed to clinch the win on Saturday at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Philippe Gilbert finished fifth behind winner Michael Valgren (Astana). The team's dedicated sprinter Fernando Gaviria was no longer present up front and the most active Quick-Step rider of the day was 32-year-old Czech champion Zdenek Stybar, while most of his other teammates - except Yves Lampaert - were below the radar.
Stybar featured in the lead group that enjoyed a gap of thirty seconds over the peloton in the final kilometres, battling for the victory. That was until Valgren escaped in the final kilometre and the pace dropped. Eventually, most riders in the group were caught by the peloton. Shortly after crossing the finish line in 20th place, Stybar was shouting into his radio and asking why he wasn't told that the peloton was coming up. "I didn't know the group was coming and that's a pity because otherwise I would've been able to react earlier," he told Cyclingnews.
"I had a good day but it's a bit sad about the ending. There wasn't a good co-operation. We did a pretty good race but we didn't win. With three guys from Astana it was hard to control that, not only for me. It's a bit of a poker game in that situation," Stybar said.
"I thought it was a great final but it's a pity about the wind. It was very nice to end the race via the Muur and Bosberg."
Seventy kilometres from the finish Stybar tried to get into a breakaway move on the Kokkerelle climb. Later, he was present in nearly all the moves until deep into the finale.
"In our team there is no team leader. We don't use that word in our team. We always race with a strong team and it's always possible to get a result," Stybar said.
On the famous ascent of the Muur in Geraardsbergen, Stybar impressed. Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac) powered in front and pre-race favourite Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) failed to hold his wheel. Stybar rode in third position and clearly had enough left in his tank to react.
"I saw that Sep was gone and there was a gap to pass him [ed. Van Avermaet]. Everybody knows that it’s the final part of the race where the race can be decided. I felt that I was able to pass him, so that's what I did," Stybar said.
"I'm really pleased. You always have to wait and see how it goes. Algarve was good and Murcia was good, straight from the first race but this is different, the first big race. I'm happy with my form and where I am right now."
Next up is Strade Bianche in Italy. The triple cyclo-cross world champion loves the combination of off-road gravel roads and the undulating course in Tuscany.
"It's my favourite race. I was never worse than fourth over there. I hope that I can once again get a good result," Stybar said.
He won the race in 2015, was the runner-up in 2016 and fourth last year.
"The results are going in the wrong direction so I need to turn it around this year."