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One year ago, Zdeněk Štybar became the first non-Belgian rider in more than three decades to win both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 BinckBank Classic in the same year, showing that the three-time world cyclocross champion was as good as ever in the cobbled classics.
Entering his tenth year with Deceuninck-Quick-Step this year, 34-year-old Štybar was poised to be again a key protagonist in the one-day races. He started the season strongly, winning a stage in the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina, and was looking to having even more or a leadership roll in the Belgian races. But with the coronavirus crisis, his season, like that of the entire cycling community, came to a halt. While at home, he divides his time between his family and staying fit.
On the day he should have defended his E3 title, Friday, the Czech veteran looked back on his stellar 2019 spring campaign as well as the current state of uncertainty in an interview released by his team.
Zdeněk, one year has passed since your E3 win. How important was that success for you?
It’s unbelievable how fast time flies. Now that I think of it, it feels like it was yesterday. What I can say is that it was one of my nicest victories, because E3 – besides being a hard event – is one of the most important and beautiful races on the calendar, one which I had always dreamed of winning.
Looking back, how was that race?
Everything fell into place that day. After doing Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo, I knew I had good legs, but you also need some luck, which this time was on my side, as everything went smoothly. Our team came into the race with a plan and we executed it perfectly. Before the Stationberg, I told Bob [Jungels] to just attack if he felt strong, and his move was an important one, as it allowed me to just follow the other riders. Of course, they didn’t give it to me for free, as they tried to put me in the wind, but I felt very good and could respond to their maneuvers. When we caught Bob with just a couple of kilometers to go, he still dug deep and worked for me, and his help was instrumental in the victory I got. I will never forget this and I hope that one day I will repay him for that.
By becoming the first non-Belgian rider in 38 years to conquer both Omloop and E3 in the same season you wrote a small page of history.
It’s an honor to achieve something like this, in these revered Belgian races and it makes me quite proud. Now when there’s no more racing, I appreciate it even more. Who knows, maybe one day I will become the first rider to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Ronde van Vlaanderen in the same year, that would be something!
Normally, today you should have been on the cobbles, defending your title.
That’s true. I worked very hard for this and tried to be in the best possible shape for this period of the season, just like the other riders who trained to reach their peak for these races. My winter was very good, I got that early win in Argentina, I was hungry to race and obtain good results. In Paris-Nice, I felt that my condition was good and on an upward trajectory. That made me super-confident that Flanders and Roubaix would find me in one of the best shapes of my life. Now, sadly, it’s all gone and all that we can do is keep the hope things will return to normal soon.
Is it difficult to cope, from both a mental and physical point of view, with this situation and the uncertainty?
To be without races it’s harder than I thought. Physically, not so much, but mentally it’s not easy. I was really looking forward to these weeks on the cobbles and right now I should have been on the top of my game, but nothing is left now and all I can do is try to adapt to that. Of course, I continue to train — although I don’t put 200km rides anymore — but training without any goals is very difficult and frustrating. At the same time, this gives you a whole new perspective and you understand it’s not about cycling anymore. It’s about the real-life, and there were so many people who got hit harder by what’s happening now, and it makes you think about them and how the whole world struggles.
What are you doing to fill your time?
Like I said, I am training every day alone, because I don’t want to lose the rhythm. I don’t want to stop, so I train to keep the shape as much as I can. Other than that, I spend more time with my son, which is really nice. Usually, I have a suitcase with me all the time, but now it’s gone, I’ve put it in the basement, and it’s kind of strange not to see it in the house. But, as I said, being at home has its advantages and I am enjoying the time I get to spend with my family, which I am grateful for, while keeping the confidence that racing will resume sooner, rather than later, this year.