In his bid for his first Monument victory at the Tour of Flanders, Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) has the support of a teammate who already has two Monuments to his name in 2015 Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb.
"Jasper is the leader. That is clear," Degenkolb said ahead of Flanders, pledging his support for the young Belgian in Belgium's biggest race. "He was super strong in all the races up until now. Of course, I will try to save as much energy as possible to come as far as possible."
Stuyven finished top-10 in the recent races leading into Flanders. He was sixth at E3 Harelbeke, ninth at Gent-Wevelgem and 10th on Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen. But does he have what it takes to make the jump from top-10 to the podium, racing against the likes of the Quick-Step Floors armada and Peter Sagan?
"This year it is not a big difference, because the gap between me and the winners is never that big," Stuyven said of his recent showings. "It's a little bit of luck, a little bit of better legs to be fresh in the final. To win, all the little details need to be together in the right moment."
On Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen, Trek-Segafredo fought to be in the mix at the end against Quick-Step, who had winner Yves Lampaert, Philippe Gilbert, Zdenek Stybar and Niki Terpstra all animating the race. Heading into Flanders this weekend, the Belgian squad – along with Sagan – look to be the favourites, but Stuyven isn't intimidated and says it's about brains over brawn.
"If you start with the idea that it is impossible, it is not going to work," Stuyven said. "On Wednesday, we were there with three guys. Then Quick-Step had three near the end and we had two. We don't need to be scared of a team that has four strong riders for the final. It is true that they can play a little bit more, but it is up to us to ride smart."
Last year, the Muur van Geraardsbergen proved to be the defining moment of the race, despite many saying that it came too early to play a factor. However, Stuyven did not want to predict where the critical moment for Flanders could come this Sunday.
"I have no idea, and I never put the focus on one point, because if you do and it doesn't happen there, then it is harder mentally – you can lose a lot of mental energy," he said. "Flanders is a race that you need to be concentrated from the start."
Degenkolb said last year at Flanders everyone in the peloton was surprised when the action started on the Muur.
"Sagan and Greg [Van Avermaet] were not in the first split, so they had to come in later," Degenkolb said. "A lot of other guys were surprised. This year everyone will be super concentrated on the Muur. But it's cycling, everything can happen. Especially in these races."
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