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CASCANA, Italy (VN) — Perhaps it was only natural that one of the best cyclocross riders in history would rail it across the gravel roads of Tuscany.
While there were no barriers to hop, the cyclocross skills of three-time world champion Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick-Step) came in handy at last weekend’s Strade Bianche, where the Czech star took a sensational win to bolster what he hopes will be a big spring classics campaign.
“Maybe my cyclocross skills helped a little bit. The gravel was pretty loose in a few places, and there was only one or two clean lines,” Stybar told VeloNews. “It was the first time I rode Strade Bianche, and it was a race that I always wanted to win. So to win the first was just amazing. It was a very hard race, especially with the wind.”
Stybar, 29, will take renewed confidence from his win over the white roads of Tuscany into the cobblestone bergs of Flanders.
First comes Tirreno-Adriatico, where he’s hoping to score a stage victory, perhaps, and otherwise help teammate Rigoberto Urán in the GC. Then it’s straight into the spring classics.
“Of course, everyone is very excited about the spring classics. This team lives for them,” he continued. “I hope to arrive in the best condition possible. Last year, we had some big successes, and we want to do that again. The most important is to arrive in good condition.”
Stybar is hopeful his Strade Bianche victory will give him a boost going into the most important part of the season for the Belgian team.
Following a breakout season in 2013, when Stybar was in the select group at Paris-Roubaix before colliding with a fan, he reconfirmed his cobbles credentials last year with more solid performances, including a career-best fifth at Paris-Roubaix, where he rode into the final selection. It was Quick-Step’s strength in numbers that allowed his teammate Niki Terpstra to escape to victory into the Roubaix velodrome in 2014.
The team’s classics hopes, however, took a big blow when Tom Boonen crashed out of Paris-Nice, and will now miss the entire spring season.
That will mean more responsibility, and more opportunity, for Stybar. He says he’s ready.
“It’s a real shame that Tom [Boonen] will not be racing the classics. When he is in the race, he is always a favorite to win, and that lifts the entire team,” he said. “We will discuss how we will confront the classics in the coming weeks. We will have a strong team, but right now we have Tirreno-Adriatico, and we come here with a good team as well.”
For Stybar and Etixx-Quick-Step, every race counts. And after Strade Bianche, even with the grit of dust in his mouth, victory tastes even better. He’s hoping it’s the start of something big this spring.
And he will be very busy in the coming weeks. After Tirreno, his schedule is stacked: Milano-Sanremo, E3-Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), and Paris-Roubaix.