Zdenek Stybar saluted the strength of his team as he celebrated his E3 BinckBank Classic victory.
The cobbled day around Harelbeke, Belgium, ended with an explanation point behind the Belgian WorldTour team. The Czech former cyclo-cross world champion rode on his rivals’ wheels as they chased down his team-mate Bob Jungels and then won the four-man sprint.
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“With the team it is really impressive,” he said. “I think almost everyone from our team can win. It makes the biggest difference for us.”
Jungels began his solo bid with under 30 kilometres remaining. He was chased by others and then the elite group with Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) – the eventual riders who finished second through fourth. And Stybar marked them.
Cycling Weekly takes on the Flanders cobbles
“I don’t want to say it was easy from behind, but we just had to cover some attacks and be in good position in the key places,” Stybar continued.
“I love to hear ‘you were sitting on the sofa’. But it is not like this. The guys who are pulling are smart, so they were putting me in the wind. It’s not like I’m doing 100 watts.
“I also covered big attacks from Greg. Maybe I was a bit lucky that I was on that moment right on his wheel. But I needed the legs to follow him. At that moment I was hoping Bob Jungels could go as far as he can. It put me in a really good position.”
In the process, Deceuninck-Quick Step won its 20th race of the season. Similar tactics in Milan-San Remo last weekend saw the team ride first for Elia Viviani and then put Stybar and Philippe Gilbert at the front for Julian Alaphilippe, who attacked and won ahead of a small group.
“Living up to expectations isn’t always easy,” said Jungels. “We are confront these situations often, and we played it perfectly.
“We have to take risks with more or less four guys in the first bigger group. We had to do something.
“I’m still new to this, not quite used to the finals. I tried to put the pressure on the others. I thought I could make it, but then I knew in the last 10km that they’d come back, so at that point, I tried to make them as tired as possible so Stybar could have his way in the sprint.”
Stybar also won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier this month. The next day, Jungels won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
Stybar has had to step up since Tom Boonen retired and Niki Terpstra, winner of the 2018 Tour of Flanders, moved to Team Direct Energie.
“It was a lot of pressure and I was happy that I could finish it off,” he said.
“I have won two races, so it gives me some confidence. You have some years when you are in really good shape but have no results. This year, the condition is good and I’m there at the right moment.
“Am I favourite for Flanders? Yeah, why not? I made a big change from cyclo-cross to road to get those results, so now all I have to do is have fun and enjoy the situation and the condition.”