With 2015 Milan-San Remo winner John Degenkolb and Trek-Segafredo back-up plan Giacomo Nizzolo both out of this year's race due to illness and injury, leadership duties for the season's first Monument fall on Jasper Stuyven, whose biggest Spring win to date came in 2016 at Kuurne-Brussell-Kuurne.
The 25-year-old Belgian was 39th in Milan-San Remo last year, finishing in the field behind the three-rider move of winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), runner-up Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and third-placed Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), but the reigns of team leadership are his this year despite only starting the race once before.
"I don’t think it’s a disadvantage that this is only my second participation in Milan-San Remo," Stuyven said at the Trek-Segafredo press conefence on the eve of the race.
"I did it last year, we did a recon earlier this week, so I have the final again fresh in my mind. It might be more difficult to predict how the other teams will race, but in fact that’s something you have to see during the race itself. That’s not a Milan-San Remo specific thing."
Stuyven may be a relative newcomer to Milan-San Remo and its nearly 300km of racing, but he's no stranger to hard, difficult days. Stuyven finished fourth in Paris-Roubaix last year, making the final five-rider group that included winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors), Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac) and Gianni Moscon (Team Sky).
Stuyven was fourth in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month, and in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne he jumped away from the lead group with Daniel Oss at the top of the Nokereberg, eventually shedding Oss and continuing on solo until the peloton brought him back with 18km to go.
“With the things Jasper has shown in the past few weeks, for me he is for sure a candidate to be in the front tomorrow," said Trek-Segafredo teammate Fabio Felline. "The finish in San Remo is always very strange, with sometimes a surprise in the sprint. So, in a sprint after 7 hours of racing and after half a race in the rain like they predict for tomorrow, anything can happen.
"Maybe Jasper is not the best sprinter, but at the end what you need is the legs, and for me has the good legs to be competitive with the best riders,” Felline said.
Stuyven acknowledged that he benefited from being able to race for himself while not having the burden of high expectations.
“For sure I would like to make a good result tomorrow, but at the same time I have to be realistic," he said. "This race doesn’t suit me for the full 100 per cent: I am not super fast but not super slow either, so I am well aware that everything has to fall into place at exactly the right time.
"I look at this race in a positive way and see it as an extra chance to make a great result in a Monument," he said, "[It is] a chance that I will take without putting too much pressure on myself by expecting too much."
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