Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) looked ready to follow Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) to the velodrome and win the sprint in Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, but it all went wrong in one moment.
“In one moment you can lose everything or you can win everything,” he explained in the Roubaix infield to a group of journalists. “You don’t know what’s waiting behind the corner.”
Behind the corner was the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector and crashes. Stybar and team-mate Stijn Vandenbergh escaped with Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco). With 17 kilometres to race, given the numbers, they looked ready to win.
The former ‘cross champion from the Czech Republic benefited from Vandenbergh’s work and was Omega Pharma’s leader at that point. With a strong kick, if he held on, he would be able to win the sprint in the Roubaix velodrome.
“I was actually in a perfect situation,” Stybar added. “I had Stijn in front, so I didn’t have to pull, I was just following Cancellara. I had perfect legs.”
In one moment, Omega Pharma lost it all.
One by one, Vandenbergh and Stybar clipped a fan while riding in the gutter of the Carrefour sector. Stybar, perhaps drawing on his ‘cross skills, stayed upright, but became unhitched from the Swiss train. (Watch a video of the incident at 1’59”)
“Once we hit all those cobbles and I saw the crowds, I was like, yeah, you need to be lucky and you need to be strong. Focused for every single second,” Stybar said.
“There was some stupid photographer and I hit him with my shifter, and I nearly crashed. I lost contact with the wheel and it was impossible to close the gap. Once you have a gap of five or ten seconds it’s impossible on this parcours to close the gap, especially after 240 kilometres.”
Stybar drew encouragement from his ability to mark Cancellara easily. It underlines his decision to switch from cyclo-cross to road full time this year.
“I think finally I let [everybody] see that I made a good move to change from cyclo-cross to road, especially for these kind of races,” Stybar added.
“It’s difficult to say if [the incident] cost me a win, but I think I could’ve been really close. … I hope to come back and win this race.”