Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-QuickStep) will broaden his horizons in 2019, riding the cobbled classics in Belgium in what he describes as "a new challenge" and "a long-term project".
The Luxembourger won the U23 Paris-Roubaix but his development as a professional has taken him down the stage racing route in recent years. After twice finishing in the top 10 at the Giro d'Italia, and winning the young rider classification – Jungels targeted the Tour de France for the first time last year and finished 11th.
Yet last year he also captured the biggest victory of his career at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, one of the five Monuments. While his Grand Tour ambitions aren't being abandoned – Jungels will return to the Giro in May – the cobbled classics will form a new focus, with the 26-year-old's only previous outings coming at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix in his first season back in 2013.
"After the success in the Ardennes last year it's obvious… I don't want to say it was the next step, but I'm just taking it as new challenge," Jungels tells Cyclingnews.
"I've spoken a lot about it with Tom Steels, and he's convinced I can do well in Flanders. When a director like Tom convinces you to ride those races, then he has something in his mind."
Jungels will begin his season at the Tour Colombia in February, heading out early to get some altitude training. He will then head to Belgium for his first taste of the cobbles at the so-called 'opening weekend' of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne at the beginning of March. He will then do Paris-Nice before returning to Belgium for De Panne, E3-Harelbeke, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and the Tour of Flanders. Paris-Roubaix is not on the programme, with Jungels now more suited to the hillier terrain in Belgium.
As for the Ardennes Classics, the preparation required for the Giro complicates matters. It is likely that he will skip Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne, but drop in for Liège, where the prospect of racing with the number one dossard will be hard to resist.
"It's a project, definitely," Jungels says of the cobbles.
"Winning in my first year I think is very unlikely, although of course I would love to. To be honest, this year I see it as a bit of an introduction to those Classics. I don't know the roads yet, and everything is so different."
Jungels insists his other 'project' – that of becoming a true Grand Tour contender – remains intact. He will head back to the Giro this year to tackle a route that, with three individual time trials, should suit him better than what he found at the Tour last year.
"I haven't lost the ambition to do well on GC, even though I focus maybe bit more now on one-day races. I'm convinced it's possible to combine both things," Jungels says.
"We've seen it with Geraint Thomas. He's a winner of E3 and did well in Roubaix, and he won the Tour. I think it's possible, it just has to be well planned. It's definitely less racing than before, but much more focused. If I see this year that it's absolutely not possible to do both, then I can always change again.
"What I learned last year is that, besides the Tour and Giro, there are many, many more races. It's also because I just saw now that I'm able to win the biggest races in the world. It's a challenge, but that's what I like about it."