Jake Stewart will line up for his first elite World Championships in Belgium on Sunday with the 21-year-old part of a Great Britain team gunning for the first men’s rainbow jersey since Mark Cavendish’s 2011 triumph in Copenhagen.
The eight-man team have options for the road race, but their best hopes lie with Olympic champion Tom Pidcock, who won De Brabantse Pijl earlier in the year on a similar course to the one that will be raced on Sunday.
Pidcock has not raced since completing his maiden Grand Tour at the Vuelta a Espana and Great Britain national coach Matt Brammeier last week expressed doubts over the Ineos rider’s current form. For Stewart, Pidcock is still a standout candidate for a major result, but the Groupama-FDJ rider also echoed Brammeier’s sentiments when it came to explaining that the British team could be more than a one-man squad.
“There’s a mix of youth and experience and especially for the parcours we have this year, it’s one of the best teams we’ve had in recent years in terms of the World Championships,” Stewart told Cyclingnews.
“It gives us plenty of options and in a race like the Worlds, where you’ve got no race radios, and being on a Flanders style course it’s always going to be unpredictable. We’ve got plenty of options if it comes down to it.”
“As Matt said, we don’t really know where Tom is after coming out of the Vuelta. We have plenty of good riders who can do a job if you look at Hayter and how he was going at the Tour of Britain, Fred Wright at the Benelux Tour, and then we have Connor Swift who is going well. So going into the race we do have plenty of options. We’ll keep our cards pretty open because it’s unpredictable in Flanders.
“With Pidcock, everyone knows what he’s capable of. He thrives on pressure and will certainly be up for it. It’s the biggest race of the year and Tom on his day is capable of pulling out a good result."
Stewart has enjoyed a breakout season of his own with a fine spring campaign that included second in Omloop and sixth in Danilith Nokere Koerse. In recent weeks he has turned his gaze to supporting teammates like Stefan Kung and Arnaud Demare but is on form for Sunday’s race.
“My form is pretty good and it’s roughly where it was during the spring. It’s just that I’ve not had the opportunity to show it massively over the last few weeks," he explained.
"At the Benelux Tour, for example, I was going well but I was there to support Stefan Kung. So, it wasn’t as though I was able to go for a result because I was trying to help position Stefan. I’m confident as to where my form is now and the numbers on the Garmin don’t lie. I’ve been going well for these last few weeks. I’m coming into the Worlds in my best form and it’s a race that we’ve targeted to peak for.”
Having raced in Great Britain colours at both the Junior and U23 level in World Championships, Stewart now finds himself on the cusp of racing for the elite ranks.
The British team used last year’s outing in Imola almost as a dress rehearsal as they formed a team around Pidcock and built on that experience. Twelve months on and the young riders on the squad have developed and improved.
There is a sense from speaking to Stewart, and Brammeier that this team is ready to put together a robust challenge.
“It’s my first elite Worlds. I was speaking to Fred Wright the other day and every Worlds we’ve done together through the ranks has been with us two and Tom," Stewart explained.
"It’s fitting that it’s mine and Fred’s first elite Worlds right from juniors and U23. It’s going to be special and if you look at the team it’s probably one of the best opportunities that we’ve had for a medal in recent years.
"Everyone is going into it is really motivated but from a personal level, I imagine I’m going there to do a job for the boys where I can. My first elite Worlds will be a massive learning experience but we have Cavendish, Rowe, and Swift to learn plenty from them.”
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