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Of his breakaway companions, Stuyven had both the experience and the legs to come out on top.
Frothing Flemish fans waited with bated breath for the Belgian baller to harvest a score that would sit proud alongside his trophies from Milan-San Remo, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel Kuurne.
Stuyven looked solid and self-assured as he rolled through with breakaway rivals Biniam Girmay, Dries van Gestel and Christophe Laporte. But inside, the demons of past defeats fluttered.
“At 10 kilometers from the finish, it was already haunting my head – not fourth again?”
Guess where Stuyven finished up Sunday afternoon?
You guessed it. Fourth out of four. Stuyven hesitated when Girmay launched early for his history-making sprint and never regained the ground.
It’s far from the first time something similar happened. Stuyven was fourth in the five-up sprint behind Greg van Avermaet at the 2017 Paris-Roubaix, and was just one second from reeling him in when “Golden Greg” finished third at Tour of Flanders last April.
More recently than that, Stuyven missed out on a spectacular podium finish on home turf at the road worlds.
Julian Alaphilippe was long gone as he charged toward a second rainbow jersey. But of the four chasers, Stuyven was fastest and all set to save Belgium’s blushes with a spot on the podium after its tactical malfunctions in the hours before. The only problem was, Dylan van Baarle and Michael Valgren got there first.
Stuyven told Het Laatste Nieuws on Sunday that he shook the fear as the foursome blasted into downtown Wevelgem.
“I was able to shake that premonition off me and boosted myself for the sprint,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about winning, but the podium, that should be possible, right?
“An attack in the final before the sprint was pointless, because it was a headwind. Also in terms of positioning for the sprint, I was perfect. But I didn’t have any gear.”
Stuyven was so distraught at another major near-miss Sunday that media could barely keep pace when he crossed the line.
“It’s starting to get embarrassing,” Stuyven said. “The team worked great all day long. I then get in front with three others and then I finish fourth in the sprint. That is to want to disappear. I’d like to crawl under a rock for a while.”
Girmay goes long in the sprint and wins.@jasperstuyven takes a hard-fought but heart-breaking 4th place.
What a race. We played everything perfectly all day but beaten by faster legs in the end.
— Trek-Segafredo (@TrekSegafredo) March 27, 2022
Stuyven won’t be able to stay beneath that stone for long. A return to the “Holier than Holy” of Belgian racing De Ronde arrives next weekend.
It’s a race where – no surprise – Stuyven finished a career-best fourth in his eight starts so far, and is a monument that will see him listed in many “top-10 contenders” lists in the next few days.
Trek-Segafredo will see Stuyven saddle up alongside longtime wingman Mads Pedersen and rising star Quinn Simmons in the quest to convert the team’s string of close calls this spring into one of the biggest wins of them all.
Also read: Stuyven saves best for Flanders, Roubaix
Stuyven is hoping he’ll be back at 100 percent after his recent bout with flu … and that he won’t be “Mr Fourth” once more.
“Somehow it makes sense that I’m still missing the punch [after illness],” Stuyven said. “I hope this place of honor is a stepping stone to De Ronde and Roubaix, but at the moment I don’t see those good signals.”