One year ago, Zdeněk Štybar became the first non-Belgian rider in more than three decades to win both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Harelbeke in the same year.
Entering his tenth year in the colours of Deceuninck – Quick-Step, Štybar was poised to be again a key protagonist in the one-day races he loves so much, especially after enjoying a strong start to the season at January’s Vuelta a San Juan, where he captured a stage victory following another trademark attack. Unfortunately for the entire cycling community, the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to the season for an indefinite period, cancelling or postponing many events, including the one-day races, and sending the riders into confinement.
While at home, where he divides his time between his family and staying fit, the 34-year-old Czech talked of his 2019 Spring Classics campaign – his finest yet – and dealing with this climate of uncertainty that has surrounded the entire world and the impact it has had so far.
“Everything fell into place that day,” he says of his victory at E3 Harelbeke. “After doing Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo, I knew I had good legs, but you also need some luck, which this time was on my side, as everything went smoothly. Our team came into the race with a plan and we executed it perfectly. Before the Stationberg, I told Bob (Jungels) to just attack if he felt strong, and his move was an important one, as it allowed me to just follow the other riders. Of course, they didn’t give it to me for free, as they tried to put me in the wind, but I felt very good and could respond to their manoeuvres. When we caught Bob with just a couple of kilometres to go, he still dug deep and worked for me, and his help was instrumental in the victory I got. I will never forget this and I hope that one day I will repay him for that.
The Czech rider also spoke about the difficulty of coping from both a mental and physical point of view, with this situation and the uncertainty.
“To be without races it’s harder than I thought,” he said. “Physically, not so much, but mentally it’s not easy. I was really looking forward to these weeks on the cobbles and right now I should have been on the top of my game, but nothing is left now and all I can do is try to adapt to that. Of course, I continue to train, although I don’t put 200km rides anymore, but training without any goals is very difficult and frustrating. At the same time, this gives you a whole new perspective and you understand it’s not about cycling anymore. It’s about the real life and there were so many people who got hit harder by what’s happening now, and it makes you think about them and how the whole world struggles.”
Regarding what he is doing to fill his time, he explained: “I am training every day alone, because I don’t want to lose the rhythm. I don’t want to stop, so I train to keep the shape as much as I can. Other than that, I spend more time with my son, which is really nice. Usually, I have a suitcase with me all the time, but now it’s gone, I’ve put it in the basement, and it’s kind of strange not to see it in the house. But, as I said, being at home has its advantages and I am enjoying the time I get to spend with my family, which I am grateful for, while keeping the confidence that racing will resume sooner, rather than later, this year.