Outside of the main favourites, Jasper Stuyven’s (Trek Segafredo) progress at this year’s Classics will be keenly watched, not least by the Belgians. As a winner of the junior Paris-Roubaix, Stuyven has long been talked up by a future Classic contender, even before he turned professional. However, the imminent retirement of his team leader Fabian Cancellara and his recent victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, has meant that the attention is only increasing for the young Trek-Segafredo rider.
He will line-up at this weekend’s E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem as a potential contender, but he says that it is all about delivering Cancellara to the victory. “I think, for me, it’s really good that Fabian is riding well, so the pressure is still on him. I have my result now, and it doesn’t affect the Tour of Flanders, we have Fabian for that,” Stuyven told Cyclingnews on the eve of E3 Harelbeke.
“It’s hard to have personal goals if you have a leader like Fabian. You also have to see how the race goes. Of course, there are always chances and when you are following the moves you don’t know what could happen. I just want to be there in the final again and if you are then anything could happen.”
Stuyven has quickly climbed the ladder of professional cycling and was thrown into the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix just months after turning professional. He got a taste for victory pretty quickly with Cancellara taking the Tour of Flanders title that year.
“You know how it feels when you win a big race like that, and I think now it motivates the riders, and me too, to try to get that feeling again,” he said. “I think it’s good to keep making steps forwards, and I think that this Classics is the next step in my development and the aim of going higher in the bigger races.”
Stuyven’s early performances impressed the team, and he quickly became an integral part of the Classics set-up. This is Stuyven’s third Classics campaign as an elite rider, although, he would see it differently after struggling to come back from injury – one of many that would plague him throughout 2015. It has only served to make him hungrier this time out.
“[In] the first year there were a lot of new things and being with Fabian and trying to get into the team. The first thing you do in the first race is to try and cover the early breaks. I did well so then they said, we’ll use you later in the race, and even in Roubaix they kept me a little bit later than Flanders,” he explained.
“Last year, I don’t really count that as a classics campaign. I didn’t make it back in time after my crash at Strade Bianche. I don’t count it. I felt before that I made a step compared to my first year, and that is what I want to show this year.”
The 23-year-old from Leuven has already proved that he is making huge leaps forwards, even towards the end of last year with his stage win at the Vuelta a Espana, despite a fractured scaphoid. He batted away comparisons with his leader Cancellara and fellow Belgian Tom Boonen, after his emphatic victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Stuyven has succeeded in keeping his feet on the ground, despite the early success, and he’s aware that this weekend and the remaining Classics provide a much bigger challenge.
“The Classics were obviously a big goal this year after having a lot of bad luck last year. Fabian wasn’t there in the opening weekend, so we knew that it was going to be a good opportunity for me and Edward [Theuns]. We had our chances there. It’s nice when you get the opportunity from the team, and they support you that you can finish it off and show that you can win races,” he said.
“I felt really good at Dwars door Vlaanderen. It’s very difficult to compare it to Kuurne now because I think Kuurne is one of those days that you don’t have a lot in a year. Yesterday was a good race, and I feel still strong for the races that are coming and of course, now it is the WorldTour races. It’s a bit different because [Sep] Vanmarcke will be there, Sky will be there, and I think that it, in general, it will be a much stronger field. We’ll see how that goes, but I’m pretty confident that I’ll be there to support Fabian.”