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"When we remained with three riders, I was afraid of Valverde but also Van Avermaet because he didn't pull a lot in the last 5 kilometers before the last clime to Siena."

Photo: © Etixx - Quick-Step / Tim de Waele

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07.03.2015 @ 19:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Etixx - Quick-Step was twice as elated on Saturday, with Zdenek Stybar winning at Strade Bianche Eroica Pro, and Yves Lampaert also victorious at Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen Stage 1.

Stybar perfectly timed his attack in the final few hundred meters of 200km Strade Bianche, countering an attack from Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team), and then distancing the Belgian rider to win by two seconds out of a three-rider select group.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finished 3rd. Stybar waited on the wheel of Valverde going into the last climb before the finish in Piazza del Campo in anticipation of the right moment to launch.

The Czech Champion's fantastic victory was the 13th for Etixx - Quick-Step on the road in 2015, and he takes over as Strade Bianche winner from Michal Kwiatkowski, who won the race solo in his Polish Champion jersey the previous season.

Stybar proved to be one of the strongest in an elite selection that had gone off the front with about 52.2km in the race. Crosswinds were strong at that point and the gaps proved to be too much for the peloton to ever regain contact.

Valverde, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Stybar were the first three riders out of an elite group of at least nine to try and stay away. But they were eventually brought back by a group of six including Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Daniel Oss and Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team), Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto-NLJumbo) and Nathan Haas (Cannondale).

Oss attempted to go solo with 25km to go and some gravel sections remaining, and behind him Vanmarcke also attacked. Stybar brought riders with him as he stayed with Vanmarcke and those riders passed Oss.

Van Avermaet, like his teammate, tried to also go solo and had a small gap when he reached gravel sector 10 with 12.8km to go. But once again, a strong Stybar led the riders with him back to the action. Vanmarcke lost contact in the final efforts to make the junction with Van Avermaet with less than 12km to go in the race.

The three then maintained their advantage all the way to the crucial final climb, though Vanmarcke was closing in with riders like Cancellara and Oss also chasing. Stybar was rewarded for his fantastic efforts in the select group with the win for Etixx - Quick-Step. Rigoberto Uran was also 7th  in the race.

"Of course I am absolutely thrilled about this victory," Stybar said. "But what made this win even sweeter is that in the technical meeting this morning, Davide Bramati and the team put their trust in me and I was deemed the race captain. It was a big responsibility and I'm happy I proved to be worthy of the honor.

 

"It was a great race. I love this kind of technical, up-and-down parcours. I can handle my bike well, so I was really in my element here in Italy today. At 50 kilometers to go were in the front of the peloton with Sagan and Valverde, but it was too early. So we waited and then we finally went with eight or nine riders. It was a bit of a natural selection as you could see who the strongest riders were already.

 

"When we remained with three riders, I was afraid of Valverde but also Van Avermaet because he didn't pull a lot in the last 5 kilometers before the last clime to Siena. He was on my wheel and I expected his attack, but not so early on the bottom of the climb. My 'finish line' was at the top of the climb, so I really gave everything to catch him and then when I did, I was able to pass him there.

 

“It was really difficult because I didn’t want to underestimate Greg, because he’s very explosive, but Valverde is a very big opponent, and with an uphill finish he was always going to be really, really strong, and of course he was waiting for the final climb. In the last 10km, I wasn’t sure how he felt, because when I had to close the gap on Greg, he didn’t want to help because he said he had cramp, but he couldn’t have followed Greg on the climb if he’d had cramp. But it was really important not to underestimate either of them.

 

“I was just staying on Alejandro [Valverde]’s wheel because I was expecting him to go first, to attack on the steepest part. But Greg surprised me when he attacked at the bottom and kept his speed to the top. I didn’t known whether to stay on his wheel or to stay with Alejandro, but in a millisecond I decided to go because I saw that Alejandro was dropping back. At the top I knew that I had to attack because whoever comes first with 200m to go wins. So I did. Finishing alone in the square in Siena is something I will never forget.

 

"When I turned into Piazza del Campo it was a dream. When the sun is in your face in that beautiful location, with such a passionate public, and you know you are the winner with no one able to catch you, it is like an explosion of joy. It was truly incredible.

 

“I think it absolutely deserves to be a Classic. I think it’s a pity it’s not a WorldTour race. If you can ride on cobbles, you can ride on gravel. In any case, it’s a very special race... It was my first Strade Bianche, and I love it.

 

"This win is also uniquely important for me because it comes after a period of struggle after crashes at Eneco Tour and my one and only cyclocross race of the winter. It was a long way back to this level of condition, so I appreciate this victory even more. I want to dedicate this win to my wife, Ine, and my family. They have been such great supporters always."

Stybar said his upcoming races will be Tirreno-Adriatico and then Milano-Sanremo.

"I think we have some really nice objectives in front of us," Stybar said. "I'm still improving my condition, so even Tirreno will be an important step to get ready for MSR and the Classics. But I want to enjoy today first.

 

“In the team it’s always difficult because we have a lot of guys who can win those races but we will see what the race tactics are on the day of the race and how the guys feel."

 

“I’m happy because the team put their faith in me today, and I showed that I can do it. I was named as leader for this race some time ago, and so I’m happy that I could take it. It’s important for me because I showed them that if they trust me, it can work out for me and the team.

 

"When I came back from Mallorca on Thursday, everybody saw my images on Twitter. I had to fix my temporary teeth replacements, which I received due to my crash at Eneco Tour. The temporary teeth were moving, so I had to find a dentist in Italy to take them out and then put them back in, because I was afraid of losing them. I am happy I did it, because I didn't know I'd have such a big smile the next day with this victory!

 

“It was difficult to re-start after the accident at the ENECO Tour, where I lost 3 teeth and broke the 2 beside them. For the first time in my career I had 4 months without racing. It may have helped me. In mid-January I had a dental implant. The last stitches came out in Mallorca on Thursday, but after training yesterday I said I had to go to the dentist or I will lose them. So I saw a dentist yesterday, he solved the problem, and today I won Strade Bianche.”

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