The stars finally aligned for the former world cyclocross world champion as he took his first major cobblestone victory of his road racing career after a few painfully close calls.
“Everything fell into place and I am so happy with what I achieved,” Stybar said. “I cannot put it into words.”
The victory has been a long time coming for the 33-year-old Czech star. Since joining the Belgian outfit in 2011, Stybar has managed to win a very respectable 16 road victories, including stages at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España. Victory at Strade Bianche in 2015 was a personal high-water mark, but he was also the nearly man on the cobbles.
In the 2013 Roubaix, his “Hell of the North” debut, Stybar infamously struck a fan standing alongside the pavé on the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector. Though he didn’t crash, he lost contact with the winning move, settling for sixth on a day that could have turned out dramatically different.
That result boded well for the future. He was the bridesmaid twice at Paris-Roubaix, second to John Degenkolb in 2015 and second again to Greg Van Avermaet in 2017. He’s punched into the top 10 on six other occasions across Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, and Milano-Sanremo.
All that was missing was the exclamation point, an important victory on the pavé. It finally came over the weekend with Stybar kicking off a strong cobbles season debut for Deceuninck-Quick-Step. The team swept the Belgian opening weekend with a victory Sunday by Bob Jungels in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
“We always knew he could do it,” said team boss Patrick Lefevere. “Often he was too nervous, and went too early or too late. [Saturday] everything fell into place.”
The Omloop win means the world to the popular Stybar, who has been tipped for cobblestone greatness since transitioning from cyclocross to the road nearly a decade ago.
“This victory means a lot to me because I have been waiting for a win like this for a long time,” Stybar said. “And I was often close to it.”
Stybar was the odd man out amid Quick-Step’s dominance in last year’s classics. The team won 73 races with 17 different riders across 2018, including the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the important classics campaign. Stybar didn’t claim a single victory that season.
“Last year, I was always in the top 10,” Stybar said. “I never stopped believing I could win these races.”
Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s unique take on the spring classics — the team races as a unit rather than rallying around one central leader — means that several riders get their chance to go for the win. Last year, Stybar was quietly playing the role of loyal lieutenant.
Following a strong winter, capped by a stage win at the Volta ao Algarve to boost his confidence in February, Stybar took his chance with a race-making surge.
“From the team car, [sport director] Tom Steels told me how much confidence they had in me and that I had what it took to finish it off,” Stybar said. “The attitude of this team is unique, the support you receive is tremendous and nobody calls himself a leader. We all work together for the same goal … and that’s why we are so successful.”
Stybar hopes to keep the winning momentum going straight into the monuments. Up next is Strade Bianche (March 9), then Tirreno-Adriatico (March 13-19), Flanders (April 7), and Roubaix (April 14).