Classics specialist Jasper Stuyven has said that he's entering the prime of his career as he looks to get back to a normal racing calendar in 2021. The Belgian, about to start his eighth season at Trek-Segafredo, has formed a successful partnership with Mads Pedersen, with the pair winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Gent-Wevelgem last season.
Speaking on a conference call from Trek-Segafredo's training camp in Spain, Stuyven outlined his main goals for the 2021 season, which unsurprisingly include the spring Classics, the Tour de France and his home World Championships.
Stuyven said that he feels as though he's among the upper tier of Classics contenders, and at 28 is reaching his best years as a rider.
"When I won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne [in 2016], it was mentioned as my first big win and when I won Omloop [in 2020] it was 'finally the first big win' so it never seems enough," he told a small group of journalists, including Cyclingnews. "But I always said that when I turn pro, I wasn't going to be the guy winning at a really young age.
"I thought that 27 to 33-34 would be my best years, so I think winning Omloop at 27 I'm coming [to my peak] at the right age. Nobody will be able to tell me if I will win all the races, but I'm definitely feeling that I'm in the stronger part of the competitive guys."
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year's spring season was unlike any other, with Opening Weekend – where Stuyven also took fifth at Kuurne – and Paris-Nice separated from the usual April Classics by seven months.
While Stuyven wasn't on his top form during that autumn run from Gent-Wevelgem to the Tour of Flanders, his team still took a big win at Gent-Wevelgem courtesy of 2019 world champion Pedersen, a result which meant the Belgian was in no way disappointed by his season's end.
"I think I went to being 'Good Jasper', not 'Superior Jasper'," he said. "But I'm not really disappointed because it was an exceptional year. It was hard to make the planning with all the changes. For me it wasn't the best, but we were there with the team and we won Gent-Wevelgem.
"If you win two of the big Classics, I don't think you can say we weren't competitive or not a strong team. We were on a good level and able to win."
Stuyven said that his Omloop win doesn't change his expectations going forward, with his goal this year still to battle for the win at the biggest Classics of them all – the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
"I go to the Classics every year of having a team that performs, and like I mentioned, Mads and I are the leaders so that includes winning those races. That also includes – and I think I'm capable of winning – Flanders or Roubaix.
"Will I be disappointed if I win Omloop again instead? No, not really. It's still a WorldTour Classic. Would I be extremely happy if I get no result but win Roubaix? Yes, of course. The goals remain the same, the ambition is there, to try to win one of the Classics."
While the big-name rivals, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, will once again dominate the discourse and favourites lists come spring, Stuyven sees the field as more open than it had been in the past, say during the Cancellara-Boonen years.
"Everyone talks about these two, but are they unbeatable? Definitely not. There's more than those two but if they have their super day then they've showed they're at a really, really high level. It's not that I'm going to the race with a thought that I can only finish third, and that's the exciting thing about bike racing.
"Even with them having a really good Classics campaign, it doesn't mean they will dominate every single race they start. The top rider's group has definitely become bigger. It's nice to see that every race has been won by different guys, so it means there's a big group of riders at a high level. I think it makes a race exciting to go to because a lot can happen."
Later on in 2021, Stuyven will take on the Tour de France for a fifth time. He'll be fighting for his first stage win there after three third places over the years – including at Champagnole last year – before a chance to ride his fourth World Championships, exceptionally close to home in Leuven.
"Of course, there was some talk about Leuven as the city and it was a matter of waiting how the course would be," said Stuyven, who was born in the Flemish town. "The finish is 150m from where I grew up so it's really a home race. It's definitely something I'm looking forward to.
"Having the World Championships in your home country is definitely nice for every rider to experience but to have it in your hometown adds a lot of extra experience and excitement.
"So, I'm definitely looking forward to it, as to whether I fancy my chances – I think on that kind of course, I can be competitive for the win, but that kind of course also suits a lot of Belgian riders. It's a matter of finding the balance and having the right leader. For me, I would love to be part of it – it would be the ultimate goal."
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