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Jasper Stuyven is saving it for when it counts.
The Trek-Segafredo racer will make his season debut at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, followed by Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday.
Stuyven previously won both races — Omloop in 2020 and Kuurne in 2016 — but he isn’t aiming to go full gas this weekend. With some bigger fish to fry later this spring, Stuyven is hoping to keep his powder dry for now.
“The top level is certainly not there yet. I’ll save that feeling for the end of March,” Stuyven said in a pre-race press conference. “Then the most important period for me starts again with, among other things, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.”
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While many of Stuyven’s classics rivals have already been going hard at it in early-season races such as the Volta ao Algarve or the Ruta del Sol, Stuyven has kept away from racing altogether. Instead, he’s been off enjoying the warmer weather, and thinner air, of Mount Teide in Tenerife.
He only returned to Belgium yesterday, just in time to prepare for his first race of the season.
“I have only been in Belgium since Thursday afternoon, but I don’t think that is a problem. I’ve had so many moments during the season where I was without competition for a month-and-a-half and started a competition without any problems with only three weeks of altitude training,” he said.
“But apparently people think that’s a bit strange when it comes to a Flemish classic, but if that works in those other races, that’s also the case now.”
It’s not the first time that Stuyven has decided to skip the hustle and bustle of the early-season stage races as he gets ready for the classics. Having followed the crowd in previous seasons, he decided to empty his February calendar last year and kick-start his campaign at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
He’s still hoping that the extra time at altitude will help him perform during the “Opening Weekend” but it’s all about later in the spring.
“I didn’t race a preparation race in 2021 either, but the years before that was indeed the tried-and-tested recipe. Then I always drove the Algarve, but I only fell there,” Stuyven laughed. “But I’ve always kind of felt like those preparation races aren’t necessary to be good when it really matters. That is why I opted for a somewhat longer altitude camp this year in order to be able to appear at the start [of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad] with good legs right away.”
Stuyven’s change in build-up to the spring paid dividends last season when he took his first-ever monument at Milano-Sanremo in spectacular style. Having monument number one on his palmarès has eased some of the pressure off his shoulders, but it’s also pushing him to try and win more.
“It’s not like I’m going to rest on my laurels now. It gives me a lot of confidence and extra motivation to be there in the big races this year too,” he said.
While Stuyven wants to save his peak performances for later in the spring, the “Opening Weekend” of Omloop and Kuurne won’t be a training ride either. The Belgian believes that it is now impossible to take on a race just to help build form as it’s all far too competitive to even try it.
“There are simply no more races where people ride slowly,” says Stuyven. “I think a lot of riders will agree with me that riding a race as preparation or to rebuild after illness, is simply no longer feasible. The competition level is so incredibly high everywhere, which ensures that you can no longer take it easy.
“Maybe that’s why I prefer not to do those smaller preparatory matches anymore. I prefer to prepare myself for a certain course in order to be able to prepare more specifically.”