Skujins: It will be hard to trump 2018

Toms Skujins’ career has been something of a slow burn, but the 27-year-old Latvian has continued to grow in strength and tactical nous with each passing season. That showed in 2018 when he enjoyed his most successful season to date.

Last year saw him win a race at the Challenge Mallorca, a stage of the Tour of California – a win that was perhaps most notable for his dance move celebration as he crossed the line – and the Tre Valli Varesine, no doubt the biggest win of his career. He was also selected for the Trek-Segafredo squad for the Tour de France, where he took the mountains jersey in the opening week and wore it for four days in his debut Tour.

It was a year Skujins says he won’t forget, but he’s not resting on his laurels as he heads into his fourth season at WorldTour level.

“I want to improve in every single aspect of my riding as I do every year,” Skujins told Cyclingnews.

“I aspire to be a rider who can be put into any race and do well and do what the team needs to do, be that mountains, cobbles or whatever. So far, I’ve accomplished that, and I think I’ve proved it several times. I just want to be a reliable rider and keep that progression going. Personally, I’d like to do better in the Ardennes but then again, I’m never good in the early season.

“It will be hard to trump [2018] because there are a lot of special things about it. It felt like it started on a high and it never came down, it just kept getting higher. It was definitely a year that I will not forget anytime soon.”

The Tour de France is huge

Skujins says there were too many good points to pick an outright favourite. But it was perhaps his ride at the Tour de France was the one that got the most attention. The response came as a bit of a surprise for Skujins who didn’t follow the professional side of the sport until he’d already been racing for some time.

“It was huge. I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up watching the Tour,” explained Skujins. “I’ve been a fan of the sport for less than I’ve ridden my bike. I only started watching it when I was maybe 18 or 19. So, it hasn’t been that big. Obviously, being selected was a huge deal but then once I got selected, the amount of messages I got really opened up my eyes to how many people actually follow the Tour and how much it means to them.

“My girlfriend and her dad would always watch the Tour. They’re Americans but they would wake up early and watch the Tour on the TV, every single year since she was a toddler. It’s huge and seeing the amount of people on the roadside was insane.”

Exploring his capabilities

Since turning professional, Skujins has shown himself to be a strong rouleur with his victories coming on lumpy, challenging terrain. With several more years left on the clock, Skujins is still exploring the outer limits of his capabilities but he already has a pretty sure idea what he can’t or doesn’t want to do.

Though he calls being a stage racer boring, he would like to try his hand at a few more of the shorter stage races. Most of Skujins’ success has come in one-day events or a single stage of a race, but the Trek-Segafredo rider does have a little bit of previous in multi-day events with overall victory at the Tour de Beauce. However, Skujins knows that adding to that win will be a big challenge.

“I don’t want to be a sprinter, I don’t want to be a time triallist, I don’t want to be a stage racer, that’s kind of boring, but I would like to at some point in my career try for a short stage race. But sometimes they’re too hard and I can’t do that. I know that there are limits to my genes and winning on a mountaintop is not going to happen,” he said.

“I plan ahead a lot but there are so many variables and those plans can go up in smoke. If you look at stage races, there’s just a limiting factor that comes with winning them. There are 10-15 guys who can win weeklong to three-week stage races and that’s it. It’s not like the rest of us are slacking and not training, it’s just that they’re better and there’s nothing that I can do about that. You’ve got to take your limits.”

Winning stage races isn’t a major concern for Skujins in 2019, however, with some other ambitions at the forefront of his thoughts. His season is likely to take a similar path to his first year at Trek-Segafredo with the Challenge Mallorca likely to be the starting point to his race programme. His first target will be the Ardennes Classics in the spring, a return to the Tour and a start at the World Championships on his hit list. Meanwhile, next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo will be in the back of his mind throughout.

“The biggest goals will be the Ardennes, nationals, making the Tour team and doing Worlds again. I think Worlds is going to be cool in Yorkshire,” Skujins told Cyclingnews.

“I really want to do well in the Ardennes, which have always been a goal of mine. I’ve had some better rides and some worse rides. It would also be lovely, results-wise, to win nationals – both, why not? And then, make the Tour team again, that would be amazing. Also, next year is also about chasing points for the Olympics.”

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