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Zdeněk Štybar’s absence a blow to Deceuninck-Quick-Step playbook for Tour of Flanders

One of the top favorites for De Ronde will not race Sunday due to a procedure to treat heart arrhythmia.

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Pre-race favorites Deceuninck-Quick-Step will be missing a key player in its tactical playbook for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.

Zdeněk Štybar, one of the strongest riders on the Belgian classics powerhouse, will not race Sunday due to health problems.

Team officials said Stybar underwent a minor operation Wednesday at a Brussels hospital after doctors diagnosed heart arrhythmia.

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“I am obviously disappointed to miss De Ronde on Sunday,” Stybar said in a team release Friday. “With E3, Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix, [this] is my favorite part of the season. I had been training well and felt that my form going into this weekend was the best that I have had for some time.”

Stybar’s departure will be a blow for Deceuninck-Quick-Step, which counted on the winner of the 2019 E3 Harelbeke and two-time runner-up at Paris-Roubaix to be a key player in its tactical plan.

Team officials confirmed Bert Van Lerberghe will replace Stybar on the team roster.

Stybar’s absence will mean Deceuninck-Quick-Step will have one fewer ace in the hole to mark moves and go on the attack in the all-important Flanders, which sees its importance step up following the decision Thursday to reschedule Paris-Roubaix for October.

More pressure will be on other Quick-Step riders to fill the void, and Stybar’s absence could give wings to other favorites in Sunday’s race.

Top rival Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) said Stybar’s absence will be noted in the race Sunday.

“I think there is no question that Zdenek is one of their strongest riders at the moment,” van der Poel said on a media call Friday. “Especially in a race like the Ronde, with the punchy climbs. He has always been good at that. We all saw in the E3 Saxo Bank Classic that he was one of the best riders in the first group. He could certainly do something on the climbs. I don’t know if it changes much in the Deceuninck-Quick-Step tactics, but he was certainly one of their strong riders.”

Even without Štybar, Deceuninck-Quick-Step will line up with a formidable squad that includes world champion Julian Alaphilippe, Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchel, and E3 Saxo Bank Classic winner Kasper Asgreen.

“We will miss ‘Stybie’ but we have a lot of riders who can win the race. That’s our strength,” Asgreen said in a media call Friday. “If we race the way we raced Friday at E3 on Sunday, I am sure one of us will have a very good chance of winning.”

The 35-year-old Stybar was a key player in Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s tactical masterpiece at E3, and finished fifth after marking rival’s wheels behind the attacking Asgreen. Two days later, Štybar noticed something was off.

The Czech star said he felt unwell following last Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, where he was 25th. The team’s medical staff discovered Stybar was suffering from what they called a “heart rhythm problem,” and recommended that he would undergo an ablation procedure.

Despite feeling better, medical staffers said it was advisable that Stybar steer wide of the demands of a six-hour race as punishing as Flanders.

“I am lucky that this is a minor surgery, and I am grateful that it happened and has been fixed, not only with the perspective of the rest of my season, but also my overall health,” Stybar said. “After a check-up it was nice to know that it was nothing more serious. I will take some days off now to relax, then look forward to starting training again.”