As grand entrances go, Zdenek Stybar’s at Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s Tour of Flanders press conference this Friday was certainly up there. The reigning cyclo-cross world champion arrived, alongside his boss Patrick Lefevere, by helicopter. It might have been a little folly for Stybar and the team, but it also showed the high esteem that the team hold him in.
With the expectations that have been put on him this season, it is hard to imagine, but Stybar is about to embark on only his second classics campaign. The 28-year-old is quietly spoken and strikes a much less commanding figure than his teammates but, even without looking at his palmarès, the drive to succeed is palpable. Speaking at the press conference, Stybar was raring to go for this weekend and wouldn’t count out a possible victory in both Flanders and Roubaix.
“I’m not nervous at all. I’m really looking forward to it, I’m excited about the race. Let’s go and race.”
“I would love for it, but it’s difficult to say. I hope that we will do it as a team. For the moment, I think that the shape is good and it will not disappear in a week. I think that if I am good on Sunday then I will also be good a week later. I have to wait and see.”
Stybar is one of three riders that QuickStep hope will give them victory at this weekend’s Ronde van Vlaanderen, along with Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra. He put in a solid performance at last year’s race and finished within the second big group, but the expectation has been that he will really bring the fight to the big contenders at Paris-Roubaix the following weekend. The Czech rider looked strong in last year’s race and many believed that he had the legs to beat Fabian Cancellara.
“It’s really amazing the love they have for this race and how much respect they have for this race. So many people are watching just one race in the year and that’s de Ronde. I think it is one of the most beautiful races that a rider can wish to win.
“Last year in Roubaix, I made a good result. I still think that Flanders suits me more than Paris-Roubaix, but still I need the confirmation. Now I have two weekends to see which race suits me the best.”
Stybar’s background is that of a cyclo-cross rider. He won two world titles in 2010 and 2011 before he decided to switch to the road and join the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team. Since then he has continued to compete in the sport and took his third title earlier this year, showing that he is on the form to win almost anything that he puts his mind to. With the bike handling skills he’s garnered from years in ‘cross, the cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix have hardly caused him a second thought. However, he still thinks that experience in the two events can counteract any small edge he might have.
“I think I have a little advantage over the cobbles. Maybe I have even more advantage if it rains, but there are so many experienced riders that they can use their power somewhere else than I do,” he explains. “There is nothing where I can take the profit of my technical skills on the bike.”
He also noted that Bradley Wiggins’ time trialling abilities are a bigger advantage than his bike handling skills when it comes to a race like Roubaix.
“I can save the energy on the turns and on the cobblestones but you don’t have the possibilities because you are still in the peloton. I think that it is better to have the power from the track then to come from cyclo-cross.”