Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) may not be one of the top three favourites for this year’s Tour of Flanders, but the Belgian has already demonstrated that being billed as a leading contender doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to winning Monuments.
The victor of Milan-San Remo heads into this spring’s final cobbled Classic as the leader of Trek-Segafredo, and after some consistent performances in E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Dwars door Vlaanderen, the 28-year-old is confident that he can contest for the win this Sunday.
“I’m still at 100 per cent of where I need to be and where I wanted to be at this point,” he told Cyclingnews from within Trek’s Belgian bubble.
“I don’t feel like I’m struggling to keep that level up from Milan-San Remo. In E3, we weren’t 100 per cent there as a team and then in the final, I had the legs but I wasn’t aggressive enough going into the Paterberg, where of course the four guys made it across to the other group. We tried to make the best of it and we almost came back to that group so the result didn’t reflect my performance but it was nice to still have those legs in Dwars door Vlaanderen. I’ve been feeling well and I’m taking that feeling into Sunday. For me, the confidence comes more from how I’ve been racing in E3 and again on Wednesday.”
Unlike in Milan-San Remo, where the real race action can be condensed into just a matter of few exhilarating kilometres, the Tour of Flanders is littered with potential springboards and obstacles. A total of 19 bergs must be climbed, and the race into the foot of each ascent is almost as important as the vertical gains themselves.
“The race can be lost everywhere and won everywhere. The last few years have shown that it’s not just about the final time up the Kwaremont and Paterberg. It can happen at any point in the last 60 kilometres, but if we look to 2016 and Gilbert was away for even longer.
"Flanders is just such a hard final and even the parts between the climbs can be just as important. A good move can go anywhere and the field is so strong that you can’t follow every move, which means that other breaks can go away.”
The pressure of leadership might be eased late on Friday evening, with Trek and Stuyven hoping that Mads Pedersen will be cleared to race after a final COVID-19 test. The squad missed Gent-Wevelgem as a result of a batch of tests but adding the Dane to their lineup for Sunday – he was second in 2018 – would add much-needed depth to the team and provide them with another option in a finale when numbers are so crucial.
“It can be a big difference. On his good days, he can be incredibly good, and on his good days, he’s shown that he’s a winner and can finish races off. Having him alongside me would be super nice because it allows us to play the cards and I’m hoping that he will be there,” Stuyven said.
“It’s always better to have two than one, especially against teams that have even more numbers to play. I’m really hoping that he can start and that he’s on one of his super days.”
The fact that Stuyven, and to some extent Pedersen, are in the frame ahead of Flanders can largely be attributed to the way in which the riders within the team bounced back after a horror show in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February. The team were off the pace in the first race of the Opening Weekend but came back with a win in Kuurne via Pedersen, before scoring a memorable Monument win in Milan-San Remo. The turnaround displayed a huge amount of character that has slowly been fostered within the squad over the last few years.
“We all realized how hard we’d all been working. Also, we did a training camp the week before, altogether with that team and we put in some huge work there. We did some big numbers and hours and the feeling was that we had nothing left for Omloop. The biggest takeaway was that we were able to turn that page really quick and keep the belief in ourselves. We didn’t want that to represent our season so winning the next day was the perfect response. Omloop wasn’t good but the way we handled it was more important,” said Stuyven.
On Sunday, the Belgian must overcome a trio of favourites in Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe – not to mention the other main contenders – if he is the win a second Monument in just as many months. As Stuyven proved on the via Roma, no one is unbeatable, and ‘favourite’ tags count for very little after 250km of racing.
“In 2018 there was a big group behind [Niki] Terpstra and the same in E3 behind him too, so there was just one guy who was significantly ahead of the others. This time it just depends on whether someone has that sort of day on Sunday but it’s pretty clear that those three are no unbeatable, not at all, although they’ve shown impressive stuff before. They shared the win in Tirreno, and it looked impressive, and it was impressive, but it didn’t mean that they were going to share the Classics win between those three.”
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