Jasper Stuyven believes he is riding into his best years in the northern classics.
After turning pro at 22, and winning Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne two years later, the expectations were sky-high for the strapping 6-foot-1 Belgian. Now 28, Stuyven delivered on the promise with a big win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last February.
Coming into 2021, he and Trek-Segafredo brass believe the groundwork is there for even more success in the Belgian classics, with the ultimate goal of winning one of the cobbled monuments at Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix.
“I always said when I turned pro, I would not be the guy to win at a really young age,” Stuyven said. “I expected that my best years would be from 27-28, until 33-34. Winning Omloop last year, I was 27, almost 28, and now I am coming to the right age. I am feeling I am with the stronger [group] of the competitive guys.”
Stuyven’s coming of age coincides with the rise of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). The already competitive classics calendar is made even more complicated by that growing rivalry, but Stuyven said he’s relishing the coming battles on the cobbles.
“Everyone talks about those two. Are they unbeatable? Definitely not,” he said. “There are more than those two. Of course, if they are on a super day, they show they are at a really, really high level. It’s not that I am going to a race with the thought that I can only finish third. We still have to race a bike race before a winner is done. It doesn’t mean they will dominate every single race when they will be at the start. It’s a challenge for them, but also for us.”
A more experienced and confident Stuyven will split leadership duties on the cobbles with 2019 world champion Mads Pedersen, who won Gent-Wevelgem in the rescheduled “fall” classics late last season. Those book-end victories in 2020 only mean more confidence for the duo as the team faces an ever deeper classics field.
“That will be the first big goal with the season, to go there with the team we have,” Stuyven said. “Last year, we won two out of the six big [northern] classics, so of course we want to go back and be competitive in the races, with Mads and I as leaders, and trying to win the races.
“[Winning Omloop] doesn’t change my expectations,” he continued. “I go every year with the ambition to have a team that performs. I think I am capable of winning Flanders and Roubaix. Will I be unhappy if I win Omloop again, and don’t win Flanders? Not at all. Will I be extremely happy if I don’t do any results and win Roubaix? Yes, of course. The goals remain the same, and the ambition is there, and we will try to win one of the classics. An ideal scenario is that Mads [Pederson] and I each win one, and a perfect scenario is we win more.”
Another big goal will be the 2021 worlds, with the finish line just 150 meters from where Stuyven grew up in Leuven.
“It’s really a home race,” he said. “It’s something I am looking forward to. Having a world championships in your own country is already nice, but to have it in your home town adds a lot of excitement. On that kind of course, I am a rider who can be competitive for the win. It can favor a lot of Belgian riders, so it’s a matter of finding the balance, and having the right leader at the moment.”
Add in the Tour de France, where he’s already notched a handful of top-5s in breakaways and reduced bunch sprints, and Stuyven has plenty to keep him busy in 2021 and beyond.