By all accounts Czech cyclist Zdenek Stybar is a bit of a tough guy. He’s a rider whose name somehow suits his riding style – tough, uncompromising, and eastern European.
It’s difficult to imagine a guy called Zdenek Stybar finding a role in life as a nurse, or a primary school teacher, for example. That’s not to say he’s not a kind and caring chap – by all accounts, he’s lovely company – just that you’d expect a guy called Zdenek Stybar to be a coal miner, a bounty hunter, or a Bond villain.
Or a pro-cyclist.
In 2011, 2012 and 2014 he was world cyclo-cross champion. On the road he’s won stages at the Tour de France and the Vuelta Espana, as well as the Eneco Tour in 2013, Strade Bianche in 2015, and has shown himself to be a serious contender on the cobbles at Paris-Roubaix.
But it’s the win at the Eneco Tour that tells you all you need to know about Stybar. People who aren’t tough guys don’t win the Eneco Tour. It’s a late season race in Belgium and Holland, which makes it subject to the vagaries of northern European weather. It also takes place on many of those same roads that the hard men race on during the spring classics.
We’re talking steep cobbled climbs, mucky windswept country lanes, and roaring crowds drinking beer.
The Eneco Tour is a stage race, but a hectic and souped-up one, made up of several mini one-day classics one after another. It’s last man standing, and not for the faint hearted. And Zdenek Stybar is not faint hearted.
In 2014 he went back to the Eneco Tour to try and repeat the feat, but crashed. Quite badly. So badly that he lost a number of teeth and underwent reconstructive surgery on his lips.
Yes…his lips. Ouch.
In the words of downhill mountain biking pioneer Jake Watson, “never use your face as a brake pad.” Stybar took to drinking coffee through a syringe.
In the 2015 Tour of Flanders those false teeth came back to…erm…bite him, by rattling loose over the cobblestones to leave him with a smile to put any of his rivals off the contents of their musette. I don’t like to make fun of another man’s appearance – having your false teeth rattle loose mid-ride can’t be pleasant – but compare the toothless grin to the smooth and slick version.
It comes back to that tough-guy name again.
Which of these two images looks like the face of a guy called Zdenek Stybar to you?