By Bjorn Haake in Gent, Belgium
Stijn Steels, the nephew of star sprinter Tom Steels, is currently riding in the UIV Talents Cup at the Six Days in Gent. While successful at the track, Steels is hoping to follow the path of his famous uncle with a career as a professional on the road. The 19-year-old and his partner Tosh van der Sande are leading the event halfway through and put an even bigger gap between themselves and their biggest rivals, Americans Austin Carroll and Guy East, on the third night.
Steels was hopeful not much would change until Sunday. "I think the Americans weren't so good today, and I think it probably will stay like that for the remainder of the race. I think we can win this [the overall]."
Steels admitted having the hometown advantage on an unusually short 166-metre track with its very steep corners. "I came here for the first time when I was 15. We used to train here all the time." With a new track only a few kilometres away, this has changed and the Gent track is only used for ten days a year now. Steels felt for his competitors, though. "When you come here for the first time, that can be intimidating."
Adding to the hometown advantage is another fact. "Tosh and I go to school here. There are lots of friends in the audience." College night didn't make a difference, as the physiotherapist in training had fans every night. Doubling up as a student and a bike racer has meant taking a lot of time out of an already busy schedule. "I spread out my three college years over four years, which helps a bit. But it is still tough."
Even though most of his successes have come on the track, Steels has only one goal in mind. "I would like become a professional on the road." The track is not the main focus anymore. "I only do a few of the UIV Cup races. I will stop after this one, as the training camps will start soon."