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MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — The first thought that comes to mind when he glides across the lobby is, “that’s a big kid.” And he’s actually not that big, at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, though that’s somewhat herculean in this feathery sport.
Jasper Stuyven’s riding and future, however, are equally large. He’s a junior world champion in the road race, and won the Paris-Roubaix junior race in 2010. He’s also finished third at the under-23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and second at Paris-Roubaix U23. That’s an impressive palmares at this point in the 21-year-old’s career, but certainly one that comes with a hefty dose of cobbled pressure in his native Belgium. They love winners. They need winners. The Belgians never do like to see cobbled monument wins go anywhere but home.
VeloNews caught up with the Trek Factory Racing rider in the Middle East.
VeloNews: You made the switch from the Bontrager team to Trek Factory Racing, a natural progression but a jump up. How’s it been?
Jasper Stuyven: It’s really nice. All the guys I know already. It feels like coming home a little bit. That makes it easier to fit in I think. It’s bigger. It’s more professional, bigger staff. But the clothing, the bikes, all that — it’s nice to be on something you already know and feel familiar with.
VN: You’re a baby on that team.
JS: Yeah, I think so. Trek Factory it’s a really young team now … I’m not the youngest but for sure I’m one of the younger guys. I think it’s good to not move up too early, and I think I was ready. Now it’s time to get some experience and become better and better.
VN: Qatar is brutal race to start at. What’s it like out there?
JS: It’s a war. It’s really windy. I heard it wasn’t that windy last year. Echelons, stuff like that. So nervous. You can’t break. You just have to try to be in the front. It’s nice. I think that’s the way it’s going to go in big races, big classics. Climbs or stuff like that. It’s very nervous. It’s good to learn, and good to see how Fabian [Cancellara] stays out of the wind. I think it’s a good way to start. It’s a hard way to start.
VN: What’s it like riding with Fabian?
JS: For sure it’s nice. Because people let him through if he wants to pass, and it’s really relaxed so far. I don’t think he’s going too nervous for these kinds of races, but it’s nice to have someone like him around, because then you want to prove yourself, that you can stay with team. You want to be in the echelon to support him as much as you can. It’s a motivation. It’s also gaining a lot of experience, just watching what he does and hearing what he says.
VN: What does he say?
JS: In the race, not that much. Just how he wants some things to get fixed, or how he wants his rest. Just small things, but you can pick it up.
VN: Is Cancellara good at letting you know what he wants?
JS: I have to say, now, he’s real relaxed … he’s not like, “Guys, I really want to have all eight of you in front of me, I want to ride right behind Quick Step.” That way, its not that we have to do something. I think the first time they put it in the gutter we were in the second [group]. Fabian didn’t have to say, “Time to start riding.” Everyone knew, because Fabian isn’t in the first group. I think that’s normal. You don’t have to wait for his sign to ride at that point.
VN: What about this Middle Eastern racing. You dig it?
JS: I think it’s cool now. But the team I’m here with are guys who have been racing this race 10 times. I can imagine it’s not so nice to come here at that point. Because the only thing you have is the sun, which is a good thing. For the landscape, it’s nothing. And everywhere you look, they’re building something. The only nice thing is you have the sun and you don’t have to start racing in the rain. So, for now for sure it’s nice. First time Qatar, first time race. It’s all nice. But I can imagine that maybe next year I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Qatar. The sun. That’s it.’”
VN: What are your hopes for yourself this season?
JS: I hope to do some of the classics. The smaller ones but maybe a few big ones … So if I can do Harelbeke or Wevelgem and maybe Roubaix, I think it would be nice for this year. Sure, as a Belgian guy you always hope to ride Flanders. But maybe Flanders and Roubaix in the first year is a little bit too much. But of course, aiming high so if I get the get for sure I’ll take it and do my very best for Fabian.
VN: You’re pretty much a classics guy. You’re a talented, strong Belgian. You have no choice.
JS: That’s the races I love the most and I think I’ve shown in the past years that’s what fits me the best. I want to try Amstel Gold Race once, because I think I can do it as well. Because in U23 I was OK in small climbs and the hills, but first I have to focus on one thing and not try to do everything because then it’s going to be a mess. We’ll see how next year goes. If classics go really well, it’s like Tom, like Fabian. They also said once, “Maybe Liège-Bastogne-Liège, maybe Amstel Gold Race.” But if you’re 100 percent sure you can win Flanders and Roubaix and you’re only 80 percent you can win Amstel Gold Race, you’re not going to ride Amstel gold. We’ll see. For sure I want to try to win smaller stage races in the future that can fit me. If you have a stage in the Ardennes maybe I could do something there.
VN: Are you sort of famous now in Belgium? Lots of girlfriends?
JS: I don’t know about the girlfriends. Maybe. At this point maybe I don’t realize … It’s working out well, for sure. People look differently at me because I’m riding on Trek and not Topsport Flanders. Not saying that Topsport is a shit team or something but that’s just the way it is. But I’m going to say the biggest difference in realizing that I’m on this team is that a lot of Belgian people that I already know are like, “Hey, can you get this to Fabian for me?” … It’s like “Yeah, no.” I’m not all day gonna get autographs from Fabian on this and on that for everyone I’ve ever spoken to. It’s like, come to the classics. So that’s a big difference now. And girls? Maybe. Maybe.”