Zdenek Stybar took Etixx–QuickStep's 17th win so far this season today in Tirreno-Adriatico. It is the most successful team and most diverse too, with 10 cyclists contributing to those victories. Stybar's first 2016 win comes after his Strade Bianche near miss and just ahead of the important classics campaign.
The Czech attacked around three kilometres away from the finish in Pomarance, sat in the sunny hills of Tuscany. Despite Tinkoff pulling behind for World Champion Peter Sagan, Stybar held an eight-second gap through twists in the road, and on the descents and rises. After the small kick to Pomarance, victory was his by one second over Sagan and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data).
"It's very important to win, but most importantly, it's good to be in shape. You can see that Fabian Cancellara is in good shape, Greg Van Avermaet is going well, Peter Sagan too. Oh, and also Edvald Boasson Hagen. Many guys who will compete in the spring classics are winning now, you see that they are in really good shape," said Stybar, who also took over the leader's blue jersey.
"It's very important to win ahead of the spring classics. I knew after Strade Bianche, it was confirmation that I was on a good way and my strength was improving. I trained very hard."
Etixx's sports director Davide Bramati called Stybar two weeks ago and said, "Zdenek, this stage is for you." Stybar explained that he had to get the timing right, though, or the chance could slip away as it did to Cancellara in Strade Bianche on Saturday.
The Belgian super-team planned well. It leads the win count of all top teams, 17 compared to Astana with 11 in second and Sky with nine in third.
"We train in the winter to a certain schedule, and I think it works because we start the year well usually," sports director Rik Van Slycke told Cycling Weekly last month.
"Now, we have new riders who are excited. For sure, that's an advantage, not that we push for that, but it happens. Then if one starts winning, it stimulates the other one. Then we tease them a bit, 'Hey, he won. Now, it's your turn. Come on!'"
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Etixx's list of winners now includes Fernando Gaviria, Gianluca Brambilla, Marcel Kittel, Dan Martin, Stijn Vandenbergh, Bob Jungels, Davide Martinelli, Petr Vakoc, Niki Terpstra and after today's stage to Pomarance, Stybar.
"Maybe it was that desire to prove oneself in a new team, but it's also that new environment that spurs you on," Martin said.
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He added that the pre-season training camps in Etixx felt more intense than what he had in seven years at Cannondale/Garmin. "I've never done as many hours as I did this winter. It's been a big step up, not harder, but different. We were away on three training camps, we never did that with Garmin."
Stybar, who took his biggest win yet the Tour de France's Le Havre stage last year, hopes that the confidence today carries through to the classics. Though the team also has Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra, Stybar should have his chance in Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
"I trained very hard. This is the first time in my life I was really struggling for a few weeks between over-training and just to keep on training," Stybar said. "Now, I have that freshness back in my legs, and my shape should grow."
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