"The goals remain the same, the ambition is there, to try to win one of the Classics."
Each rider's path to success is unique and Jasper Stuyven knows he's on the right track towards his first Monument success. His talent has been shining since the Junior ranks (a category in which he won the UCI Road World Championships and Paris-Roubaix Juniors), and he's learned the ropes with legends of the sport. As he returns to the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite this Saturday, a year after he won the Belgian season opener, he is convinced he’s coming into his best years on the bike.
"I think I'm capable of winning Flanders or Roubaix," he told the press in January, while already dreaming of the UCI Road World Championships. He backed up this claim, recognising that his development has followed the ambitions he laid out for himself at the beginning of his career: "I thought that 27 to 33-34 would be my best years, so I think by winning Omloop at 27 I'm coming [to my peak] at the right age. Nobody will be able to tell me if I will win all the races, but I'm definitely feeling that I'm in the stronger part of the competitive guys."
The Belgian leader of Trek-Segafredo will turn 29 years old on April 17, on the eve of the Amstel Gold Race, his final goal in a Classics season he hopes will be the most successful of his career so far. The 2021 season will offer unique opportunities for him to leave his mark in cycling history, with the UCI Road World Championships to be held on his home roads, the same roads where he seeks success every year in the Spring Classics.
A seasoned Classic expert
"I want to win Paris-Roubaix", Stuyven stated as a neo-pro for Trek Factory Racing, back in 2014. The American squad was led at the time by Fabian Cancellara, winner of seven Monuments, including the 2014 Ronde van Vlaanderen, with Stuyven by his side. Since then, the team has become Trek-Segafredo and the Belgian youngster has amassed experience on the tough roads of the Flanders Classics.
Notably, he has participated in every edition of the Ronde. His highest finishing position there was achieved in 2018, the year he showed his best consistency in the Classics with top 10 finishes in the Het Nieuwsblad (4th), Milano-Sanremo (10th), Dwars door Vlaanderen (10th), Grand Prix E3 (6th), Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields (9th), the Ronde van Vlaanderen (7th) and Paris-Roubaix (5th) before climbing onto the podium of the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec at the end of the summer.
Jasper Stuyven also knows how to win. He claimed Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne early in his career, back in 2016, just before turning 24 years old. His return to top of the podium of a Flanders Classic was a spectacular sight. Last year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad threw mighty challenges at the riders (the rain, windy conditions and the famous "bergs"). The race opened up early with teams building echelons and leaders attacking from far away. Stuyven was more than up to the task. He masterfully controlled the race, powerfully put the hammer down ascending the Muur van Geraardsbergen and eventually dominated his compatriot Yves Lampaert in a two-man sprint in Ninove.
The rest of the year wasn't as successful and Stuyven admits he probably didn't handle the break imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic as well as others, but he was still satisfied with his partner Mads Pedersen's victory in Gent-Wevelgem. Their start of the season has been affected by the postponement of the Volta ao Algarve but they're now ready to tackle an ambitious spring programme with Paris-Nice and the biggest Classics.
Son of Flanders, master of chocolate and hopeful UCI World Champion
Stuyven is the only active rider to have won both the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Only nine riders before him had managed to claim the two races and seven of them also won Monuments, including the iconic Roger De Vleminck who triumphed on all of them in the 1970s. The latest examples are Johan Museeuw (three wins each in Roubaix and on the Ronde), Peter Van Petegem (already a winner of the Ronde in 1999 before he became the first rider since De Vlaeminck to win both the Ronde and Roubaix in the same season, 2003) and Nick Nuyens (winner of the 2011 Ronde).
Museeuw added the rainbow jersey to his many conquests and Stuyven has a similar dream, bolstered by the venue of the 2021 edition of the UCI Road World Championships, in Flanders. "The finish is 150 metres from where I grew up [in Leuven] so it's really a home race," the Belgian star acknowledged after the route was unveiled. "Having the UCI World Championships in your home country is definitely nice for every rider to experience but to have it in your hometown adds a lot of extra experience and excitement."
Flemish roads are famous for their twists and turns leading from one cycling hotspot to another. The area is also famous for its chocolates. Enthusiasts of cycling and chocolate can combine both, venturing away from the route of the UCI Worlds to follow Jasper Stuyven's tracks. Starting from the Grote Markt in Antwerp, head towards Leuven, just like the riders will in September. Reaching Werchter, after some 45km, they'll keep going south and reach the final circuit a dozen kilometres further on; but if you turn to the East, it's just a 15-minute ride to Betekom, where Stuyven owns a chocolate factory whose treats he can only savour in the off-season.
September is far away and Stuyven is aware that the Belgian ranks are full of contenders on a tough route, filled with short climbs and cobble sectors set to turn the race upside down as "Flandrien" riders love. "On that kind of course, I am a rider who can be competitive for the win," Stuyven says as he highlights the 2021 UCI Road World Championships as "the ultimate goal".