The former world cyclo-cross world champion had a difficult winter after a nasty crash at the Eneco Tour left him with a fractured jaw and without his front upper teeth. He also suffered a separated shoulder in an October cyclo-cross race, forcing him to miss his usual programme of cross races in January.
He posted a photo of himself at a Tuscan dentist on Friday and was proud to have won Strade Bianche at the first attempt.
“I had to go to a dentist, but the pain was nothing like that of the race,” he joked after the race winner’s press conference. “I could feel my stitches under my temporary bridge coming out after my training ride and if I’d lost my temporary teeth, it would have been a big disaster, I would have missed a lot of races. So I had to sort it out. Fortunately, it didn’t affect my race.”
Stybar always sees his glass half full and considered his time away from cyclo-cross as a chance to focus on his road training for the 2015 season.
“Something good always comes out of something good,” he suggested. "It was difficult to start training after the Eneco Tour crash and then again in Ardooie but it meant I had time to train really well during the winter. It’s the first time in my career that I didn’t race for four months, but I had a great winter. I didn’t know where I’d stand in the early races but then I got third in Murcia and knew I’d improve even more. I’m happy with my form right now.”
Stybar wants Strade Bianche in the WorldTour
Stybar’s solid form gave him the ability to survive the selection process that always occurs on the dirt roads. He feared Valverde on the final climb to Siena but knew he had to be first into the right-hand corner before the finish.
“In the last kilometre I stayed on Alejandro’s wheel because I was expecting him to go first and go on the steepest part of the climb. But then Greg surprised me by going from the bottom of the climb. I didn’t know whether to jump on his wheel or stay with Valverde but then made the decision in a split second because I saw Valverde was suffering a bit. At the top I knew I had to overtake Greg and knew that I’d have to be first to the last corner if I wanted to win. I just had to get in front of him. I did it and finishing alone in the square is something I’ll never forget.”
Stybar seems perfectly suited to a race that includes 50km of dirt roads and demands excellent bike handling skills, raw power and sharp tactical mind. Stybar is perhaps biased after winning, but he is convinced Strade Bianche should be on the UCI WorldTour calendar.
“It’s the first time for me, but I love it,” he said. “I think it deserves to considered as a real Classic. I think it’s even a really pity it’s not on the WorldTour calendar. If we can ride on the cobbles in WorldTour races, I think we can race on the dirt. It’s a really special race.”
Team leadership role at Etixx-QuickStep for Flanders and Roubaix?
Winning Strade Bianche was also a special victory for the Etixx-QuickStep team and lifted Stybar’s position up the Belgian teams leadership hierarchy in view of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Stybar revealed he would also ride Milan-San Remo alongside Mark Cavendish. He finished seventh in 2014, just two places behind the Manxman.
However, he refuted a suggestion that this win was revenge for Etixx-QuickStep’s tactical mistake in last weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, when Ian Stannard (Team Sky) outfoxed Niki Terpstra, Tom Boonen and Stijn Vandenbergh.
“We can talk about revenge but it’s just nice to win,” Stybar said. “I think enough was said about it (Omloop) already. It can happen - well it shouldn’t happen, but it happened.”
Stybar carefully danced around a question about team leadership for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix at Etixx-QuickStep. Boonen is the team’s natural leader but Stybar made it clear he is ready to step up and ride to win too if he the team puts its trust in him.
“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,” he said.
“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.”