Quality over quantity was how 2014 played out for under 23 world champion Sven Erik Bystrøm and he is hoping for more of the same as he embarks on his debut professional season with Katusha. Bystrøm road as a stagiaire for the Russian team at the Arctic Race of Norway but will get his first full taste of professional racing at the Tour of Qatar before turning to the Belgian classics.
The 22-year-old hopes to be able to balance his team responsibilities earlier in the season with his own ambitions. "I think it is possible to show myself and that I am a good neo-pro. Last year there were some neo-pros who put in some good results. I am familiar with them from before and if they can do it then maybe I can do it," Bystrøm told Cyclingnews. "The first races will be about helping [Alexander] Kristoff and the other leaders but I think that I will have some possibilities to have my own chance later in the season."
Expectations will be Bystrøm after he claimed a commanding solo victory in the under23 World Championships road race, beating the highly favoured Australian team and Caleb Ewan. Bystrøm had been knocking on the door for much of the season but it wasn't until his final race of the year that he finally managed to notch one up in the win column.
"I felt in good shape before the race so I thought that if I could get a top ten then I would be happy," he said. "For the team, we wanted to have a medal and I knew that I could maybe on a good day have a medal. For me it is was about attacking and avoiding a bunch sprint and it went perfectly."
His move proved so successful that Michal Kwiatkowski would replicate it in the senior race and take his own set of rainbow stripes. "I heard he said in the interview afterwards that he saw the U23 race and he saw that it was possible to have five seconds on the last climb and you could make it. Maybe I gave him some inspiration."
Bystrøm signed a stagiaire with Katusha in July of last year after his training companion and Norwegian compatriot Kristoff recommended him to the team's management. The Milan-San Remo victor was keen to have a rider from his native country on the team and persuaded the team enough that they offered Bystrøm a two-year contract.
"He wanted a Norwegian teammate and we've been training together for the last couple of years and he mentioned my name to the management," explained Bystrøm. "He's one of the biggest riders on the team and he is like a mentor to me. He's Norwegian, so we can talk Norwegian to each other and for me it is really good to have him in the team and it gives me a bit of a softer start to my professional career."
With the arrival of Bystrøm and Kristoffer Skjerping, who finished third at the World Championships, and Thor Hushovd's retirement the number of Norwegians in the top tier of cycling remains has increased to five plus two more at Pro Continental level. Hushovd remains the only Norwegian world champion after his victory in Geelong 2010. Norway proved that it is becoming an increasingly stronger force in the world of cycling when it won the vote to host the 2017 World Championships in Bergen, just up the coast from from Bystrøm's home of Haugesund on the western coast of Norway.
"It's going to be really big. Bergen is two and a half hours from my home so for sure there will be a lot of family of friends watching. For me, it is going to be special and the course is going to be spectacular with the fjords and the surroundings around Bergen."
Bystrøm will be at the end of his third season as a professional when the Bergen worlds roll around and he has big hopes for the event. "It is also a dream to win the worlds in Bergen, in my home country," said Bystrøm. "It's a bit early to have it as a goal but you never know what happens. A lot of young riders are doing well now so you never know, but I at least want to be selected for the Norwegian team and we can take it from there."
Between now and then, however, Bystrøm has other plans for his future. "For now, I'm developing myself in some small climbing races. In the future, I would like to do well in races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Ardennes Classics, obviously the Tour de France is really big so I would love to win a stage of the Tour in the future."
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