Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick-Step) once again suffered from problems with his temporary front teeth, this time in the Tour of Flanders. The Czech rider had similar issues before Strade Bianche, but had a quick fix the day before seizing the victory in Siena. On Sunday, the bridge was rattled loose on the cobbles of Flanders, and he was unsure of how much his gap-toothed grill affected his race.
Stybar was one of the pre-race favourites, sharing the team leadership with Niki Terpstra who set up the decisive breakaway move with eventual winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). Stybar covered the reactions in the chase group, struggled on the final climb and eventually finished ninth.
Team doctor Ivan Vanmol explained to Cyclingnews that Stybar lost three of his front teeth during a major bunch sprint crash in Ardooie at the end of last season in the Eneco Tour. He also fractured the bone in his upper jaw and currently wears a temporary bridge with false teeth. The dental work came loose before Strade Bianche and was re-cemented, but rattled loose once more on the second ascent of the Kwaremont with more than 60km left to race. Director sportif Wilfried Peeters explained how it bothered him during the race.
"Straight away he had problems to take in food. He only consumed gels. He had trouble to open them up too. He was a bit in fear because of that. It wasn't the biggest problem in the final of the race. I can't blame him for anything he did. Maybe only his bad moment on the Paterberg but other than that he rode the perfect race. He was also allowed to bridge up to the leaders, for example with Van Avermaet and Sagan," Peeters said.
Team manager Patrick Lefevere felt that Stybar had done a great job for the team. "Stybi blocked the chase group well and tried to sneak along. In the group behind they controlled each other," Lefevere told Cyclingnews.
After the finish Stybar preferred not to talk with the media because of his teeth problem. Later, he explained what happened in a press release from the team.
"I think my shape was good. But it was an odd race. With my teeth, and all the bizarre crashes happening, it was truly strange," Stybar stated. "It's difficult to say how the loss of my teeth affected my performance, but it's really not nice to deal with it in such a big race," Stybar said. "I was distracted by it and didn't know what to do. It happened before the second trip up the Kwaremont. Because it's a bridge, it was moving, so I took it out. It's not the best feeling to ride without teeth."
It was clear Stybar had trouble eating, and possibly that might have been the reason why he cracked on the second and final ascent of the Paterberg, letting go of Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan who went on to finish third and fourth.
"Race-wise I felt pretty good. On the Kwaremont chasing behind Niki we rode away with Thomas, but the gap just wasn't big enough. Niki was in front of us and it would be dangerous to bring him back. I sat on the wheel of Thomas, and then before the Paterberg I almost closed all the gaps forming between the riders, and it maybe cost me the power I could have used to be with Van Avermaet and Sagan when they went away on the Paterberg. But that is also part of the teamwork for Niki.
"I really think the Ronde is the most beautiful race in the world, riding through such a big public that truly loves this race. Now I look next to Paris-Roubaix, another race I am so passionate about."
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