Zdenek Stybar can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible. As the Czech rider posed for photographers ahead of Etixx-QuickStep’s pre-Paris-Roubaix press conference on Friday afternoon, he flashed a grin that showed the success of his mid-week dental work.
Stybar’s false teeth – he lost the originals in a crash at the Eneco Tour last year – rattled loose on the cobbles at the Tour of Flanders last Sunday, and he spent the final 70km of the race unable to eat solid food, subsisting on a diet of liquids and gels, though he managed to finish the race in ninth place.
While his peers spent Monday recovering from their exertions at the Ronde, Stybar visited a dentist to receive a replacement dental bridge, and he said that he had encountered no problems during Etixx-QuickStep’s reconnaissance on the pavé on Friday morning.
“They’re okay now, they’re really well glued and brand new,” he said. “I really hope I don’t lose them again now. It was really disturbing in the race last week. Maybe I won’t eat any coconut bars or sticky candy for a while, but drinking from the bidon or eating a bar isn’t a problem. You don’t feel it racing, but you do notice it when you lose half of your teeth at the end of the race.”
Despite the absence of Tom Boonen, Etixx-QuickStep still has a trio of Paris-Roubaix contenders, as Stybar will lead the line alongside Stijn Vandenbergh and defending champion Niki Terpstra. Stybar’s cyclo-cross background means that he was tipped as a future Roubaix winner on belatedly turning to the road full-time midway through 2012.
Although he views himself as being more suited to the Tour of Flanders, Stybar performed better at Paris-Roubaix in his first two springs with QuickStep, finishing sixth after a collision with a spectator forced him out of the winning move in 2013 and then taking fifth last year.
“Actually, the Ronde (Tour of Flanders) is better for me, I think I'm too light for Paris-Roubaix. Boonen and Cancellara are nearly 10 kilograms heavier, so in terms of sheer power and wattages I cannot compete with them,” Stybar said. “But then I’ve already been twice in the finale of Paris-Roubaix, so hopefully the third time is the lucky one. I think I’ve made a step forward this year, I’m always close, but I’ve had bad luck. I had a flat tyre at Gent-Wevelgem and I lost my teeth at the Ronde.”
Watching out for Wiggins
Tour of Flanders winner Alexander Kristoff’s recent run of victories has seen the Norwegian become the favourite for Paris-Roubaix despite a less than convincing previous record in the race. Stybar, however, has identified another, rather different dangerman, Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).
Since his Grand Tour career effectively ended at his ill-starred 2013 Giro d’Italia, Wiggins has consistently landed the other goals set for him by Team Sky, taking the 2013 Tour of Britain and the 2014 Tour of California and then the world time trial title in Ponferrada last September. Wiggins was ninth in Paris-Roubaix a year ago, in the same chase group as Stybar, but has prepared more specifically for the race this time around, racing consistently in Belgium rather than being parachuted into Team Sky’s Classics line-up at the last moment.
“Wiggins for me, he is really the guy to watch,” Stybar said. “We know from the past that when he has something in his mind he can do it. We know he is focusing only on this race. For me, he is really the big favourite. Even though he hasn’t had a big showing in the spring, that’s because it has all been for Paris-Roubaix. I think we will see him there in the front.”
Perhaps with his fellow former cyclo-cross Lars Boom’s rain-soaked Tour de France stage win on the pavé in mind; Stybar admitted that he would be happy to face similar conditions on Sunday, though the forecast is instead for a dry Paris-Roubaix.
“I don’t care too much. Once in my career I would like to do it in the rain so that I can use some of my skills from cyclo-cross. But that would also be very dangerous. So let’s start with the idea that it would be dry,” Stybar said. “It’s going to be up to us to make the race hard.”