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Zdenek Štybar and his eternal monument quest: ‘Every race is like the world championship’

Czech superstar will skip Strade Bianche and try to hit form when it counts during the spring classics.

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Zdenek Štybar once seemed destined not to win a monument, but several.

The Czech superstar was one of the first among the modern generation to transition in and out of cyclocross, and if it weren’t for a few errant punctures, ill-timed crashes, health issues, and one bonehead fan, Štybar likely would be counting his big wins on two hands.

Instead, Štybar pedals into the “opening weekend” and the 2022 classics campaign unsure of his legs, his motor, and his future.

“It’s always a big question mark,” Stybar told VeloNews. “We are always excited about the spring classics. I think everybody is in good shape, we’ll do Omloop and then we’ll start up and try to win, like we always do.”

Stybar has been part of the “Wolfpack” culture at Quick-Step since 2011, when he ruled the mud of cyclocross and transitioned his huge natural motor onto the road. It took him a few years to hit his stride on pavement, but by 2013, he emerged as a steady rider in the WorldTour.

In 2013, the stars seemed to be aligning at Paris-Roubaix. He was marking the wheel of eventual winner Fabian Cancellara late in the race with a podium spot seemingly in his pocket when he clipped a fan, knocking him off-balance, and off the wheel. He finished sixth.

He later twice finished second in subsequent editions of Roubaix, and hit out big in 2019, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Harelbeke for his first major classics victories.

Stybar: ‘It’s like the world championship every day’

For Stybar, this approach to the classics season is like any other, with a few twists.

One thing hasn’t changed — every race is an opportunity for something special.

“It’s like every spring classic, it doesn’t matter if it’s Omloop, or Harelbeke, or Flanders, it’s like the world championship every day,” he told VeloNews last week at Ruta del Sol.

“It is very big for us,” he said of “opening weekend.” “Everyone wants to have one of those big races on their palmarès, so that’s why everyone races so hard.”

At 36, Stybar is happy to be back in the fray after a 2021 season fraught with health issues.

COVID-19 and minor surgery for heart arrhythmia saw him ride through uneven campaigns in 2020 and 2021, and he penned a deal to stay with the team for at least 2022.

“My heart? It’s completely all right now,” Stybar said. “The ambitions are always the same, to have as good as performance a result as possible and to help the guys.

“Always our strong point is to ride for each other and try to win the races. If it is me or someone else, we don’t care too much,” he said. “Of course, you always wish a little bit to win yourself. Again, we will have a very strong squad on the start line.”

Skipping Strade Bianche, worried about COVID

Photo: James Startt

Like many in the bunch, there’s a nagging fear that a late-hour diagnosis of COVID-19 could torpedo everything.

“Omicron is a big question mark. You can plan everything, but you cannot plan too much in advance right now,” he said, adding that he’s avoided COVID-19 so far. “Luckily not, so I don’t know if it’s lucky or not lucky, maybe I got it and I did not realize it. My wife had it and so did our son, so who knows.

“Of course there is a big fear. Everyone is worrying about it. Once you get it, you have to go into isolation, you miss training days, you lose your shape. We just follow the internal rules within the team and that’s it.”

Stybar is tweaking his approach into the heart of the classics, and will skip Strade Bianche, which he won in 2015, and race Paris-Nice instead.

“No Strade Bianche, they decided to put me in Paris-Nice, also here [Ruta del Sol] it’s new for me for preparation, so why not?” he said. “The approach to Paris-Roubaix will be very different. Maybe some riders will race race Amstel Gold and others will not. It will be quite hard to keep the shape until Roubaix. So far, so good in the first race of the season.”

The monument quest continues.