After Dirk Demol's tough love and public criticism, Trek-Segafredo's Classics riders rallied in Paris-Roubaix to claim three spots in the top 10. They team may have missed out on the podium, with Jasper Stuyven their highest placed finisher in fourth, but Demol saw enough on the road to the Roubaix velodrome to fill him with confidence for next season.
"The big lesson was always that we had three or four guys up there but that they must believe in themselves more," Demol told Cyclingnews the morning after Greg Van Avermaet won his first Monument.
Demol had cut a frustrated figure at the finish of several of the spring races, pointing out that his team lacked a cutting edge and that they missed Fabian Cancellara's aggressive nature. However, on Sunday, Stuyven, John Degenkolb and the rest of the team looked to animate the race. Stuyven led the line and made it into a key selection before the eventual podium finishers broke clear. A late chase between Stuyven and Team Sky's Gianni Moscon saw the Trek rider come close to a podium finish but he was eventually denied.
"We have good riders but they always had the one second of doubt in the finales," Demol said of the races at the start of the spring.
"They could have had better results with the condition that they had. They had too much respect for some of the rivals at times. I won't say that they were scared but we missed some real aggression at times. I saw a slightly different team in Flanders and Roubaix and they showed that if they have the balls to go then they can do it. We didn't get the top step on the podium but we've seen some progression."
Trek-Segafredo started the Classics with one of the most exciting line-ups in the peloton. Stuyven and Edward Theuns were joined by new recruit and previous Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix winner Degenkolb. The German, according to Demol, has not yet reached the heights of 2015 and is still finding his best condition after a career-threatening run in with a car at the start of 2016.
"John has had a good spring campaign, especially when we look back one year ago. There was still a question over whether he could come back as a rider, so one year later we've seen he is good but he's not quite the John of 2015, not yet. I think we'll see the best of him next year because he still needs that season to bridge back to where he was."
As for Stuyven, he appears to have answered some of the questions that arose after a poor ride in E3 Harelbeke. According to Demol that ride prompted a crisis in confidence for the Belgian but he composed himself for Roubaix and gave one of his best performances in a Trek-Segafredo jersey.
"Jasper showed his capabilities with his result in Roubaix. In the races before that, he wasn't that good. He had a real mental dip after having an off-day in Harelbeke and it was hard for him to get over that."
"We believe in Jasper. He's only 24 but he's showed his potential. It has been hard for him mentally because he was training and working so hard over the last few months and it didn't work. It was hard for us to understand but in Roubaix, he finished the campaign on the attack and with a result. Overall the team was good but we didn't have one rider who was super."