Jeremy Hunt is in his 15th season as a professional and 36-year-old looks more settled than ever as he embarks on another batch of Belgium races this weekend. The Cervelo rider will start both E3 Prijs and Gent-Wevelgem, and will throw all his effort into supporting team leaders Thor Hushovd and Theo Bos. It’s a far cry from the Hunt that burst onto the scene in 1996 as a young sprinter for Miguel Indurain’s Banesto team.
“I’m here to help Thor win, so we’ll try and win with him. We’ll see how we go but we’re looking strong as a team,” Hunt said at the team’s base in Melle, Belgium.
In his career Hunt has ridden for many teams but his love for the Classics started in 2004 when he signed for a Belgian team and rode alongside Frank Vandenbrouke, Jo Planckaert and Roger Hammond.
“I discovered the Classics with MrBookmaker.com and realised I wanted to do them,” he said. “It got me back on my back and gave me more ambition, and then I found this team where you can be a good helper for some of the best riders in the world.”
Hunt turned professional in 1996. At the time the amateur had a choice between the Banesto team and waiting one year and signing with Motorola as a stagiere. The choice was an easy one and Hunt went to Spain. In hindsight it was the best move with Motorola folding at the end of 1996.
“I went to one of the best teams in the world and rode with Indurain but since then I’ve just ridden my bike and enjoyed it as much as I can.”
“When you’re watching guys like Indurain on television at the age of 15 and then you turn pro with them, it’s like turning pro now and riding with Lance,” he added. “Maybe a bit different because there was no internet then, so you’d just watch them on television during the Tour de France. There weren’t different levels of racing like there are now, just pros and amateurs. Indurain was a hero so it was scary, you didn’t know what to do but it was great to be in that team.”
In his first two seasons Hunt won over 10 races, claiming wins over the best sprinters in the world and taking stages on the Tour de l’Avenir. Those legs may have slowed a bit when it comes to sprinting but Hunt is still confident that given the chance, he can still surprise people with his kick.
“I can win a sprint against some of the sprinters out there,” he said. “If Thor is leading me out then I can beat them. I can’t be Cavendish, Thor or Heinrich but I can beat the guys finishing fifth and sixth.
“I always wanted to be a Classics rider,” Hunt said. “But I went to Banesto and became a sprinter but I didn’t want to be in that mould. Sprinting was the way I won races but I could always climb and sprint and I would have rather come to a team like this if I could have my time again.”
Hunt has raced all over Europe since his time Spain, but naturally matured as a rider in that time.
“You get stronger and you know how to race. But my role is different now to the Hunt back then,” he said. “Now there are two captains in the team and it’s about getting them to the finish first. It’s not about dreaming about one day winning Flanders. I’m 36, I would have done it already if it was going to happen now.
“I can still win a bunch sprint,” he said. “I’ve done it for the last few years but would I rather see Thor and the others win or get third or fourth?”
With time beginning to catch up with him Hunt admitted that retirement has crossed his mind but that it won’t happen just yet. Not while he’s still able to do a job for the team.
“I don’t want to be riding around making up the numbers,” he said. “I’m still racing, I’m still there, doing a job. Last week my job was to lead into the Cipressa with Thor and I did it. As long as I can keep doing that I’ll be here.”
So expect to see Hunt doing his job again this weekend.