British youngster Jake Stewart joined the Groupama-FDJ Continental setup last year, its first in existence, and after some stellar results at that level took the opportunity to ride with the WorldTour squad earlier this season.
Stewart joined a young team at the Volta ao Algarve, his first race of the season, riding alongside the likes of Stefan Küng and Tobias Ludvigsson for his first time as part of a WorldTour squad.
Last season, Stewart excelled on the cobbles, taking third at the U23 Tour of Flanders and eighth at Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, as well as finishing top five at the Triptyque des Monts en Châteaux.
Cyclingnews caught up with him at the end of the Volta ao Algarve to find out more about the 20-year-old.
Cyclingnews: How has your first race as part of a WorldTour setup been?
Jake Stewart: I've enjoyed it. I haven't come here in top condition. It was the first race of the season, so you never really know what to expect. I've just come out of a training camp and came here so we were just here more for the learning experience than to get a result.
The first day they said I go for a sprint and I punctured at the worst moment. It was stage over then and stage 3 was the first time getting involved in the sprint this season. I got caught in a wheel when a lead out man was coming backwards and then it was full gas to the line.
CN: Does it inspire you to look around and see riders like Remco Evenepoel [who won the race – Ed.] succeeding at this level at such a young age?
JS: I think certainly the sport is becoming younger and younger, especially in recent years. It's where we aspire to be anyway, and hopefully if I make the step up to WorldTour I could perform at a top level straight away.
CN: How has your time with Groupama FDJ been – both here and at the Continental squad?
JS: he new rules from the UCI allowed this, so I was the first guy from the Conti team to step up into the WorldTour team. It was good to be able to integrate and learn from these WorldTour guys.
I've enjoyed it here. I decided to step away from the British Academy and try and pursue something on the road and concentrate on that. I've trusted all the staff here, I've really enjoyed it and I continue to learn from it.
CN: And you've had support from the Dave Rayner Fund during your career too?
JS: I'm supported by the Dave Rayner Fund so they've helped me out a bit. It's good to be part of a community like that. They do a lot for the sport, for younger riders. I'm in a fortunate position where I'm supported by a WorldTour team but not everyone can be like that so that benefits a lot of guys.
CN: So why did you choose Groupama-FDJ?
JS: You can go through the Academy and focus on the track and the road but at the end of the day I wasn't really confident going forward on the track that I was going to be fighting for a position at the Olympics, so I decided to transfer to the road.
I was approached by Groupama-FDJ, and last year was their first year so a lot of people looked at the move and thought it could be a bit of a gamble, especially a typically French team. But I've integrated really well, and I enjoy it. It was a logical step for me, wanting to transition to the road.
CN: Obviously, you've done well in the Classics at U23 level. Is that the kind of rider you aspire to be?
JS: I think one day the Classics races are where my heart is. That's what inspires me and that's what motivates me to get out on the bike on crap days and train hard. So for sure I think that my route going forward would be to focus on the one days and Classics and see what I do there.
CN: Are there any riders in particular you've looked up to and thought I want to be like them?
JS: Not particularly. It's always a question you get asked, but I've aspired to the riders that are humble in their winning and work hard, like Jens Voigt or Cancellara. Gritty guys who work hard and show that their pays off.
CN: Finally, if you had a five-year plan, what would you be setting out to do?
JS: In five years I'd like to win a cobbled Monument. It's a bit cliché – it's every rider's dream – but that's what motivates me. I've proven that I can do it at U23 level so why not prove that I can do it with the big guys?
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