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Stuyven, Belgium’s budding star: Bikes, books, and chocolates

Jasper Stuyven was born in Flanders as a cobble-basher, but he's since branched out into the business world.

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Jasper Stuyven is not your typical classics cobble-basher. While it’s true he has a pure Flemish pedigree — born and raised on the pavé near Leuven — the Trek-Segafredo rider differs from some of his peers.

He’s tall, strong, fast, and hungry, just like anyone needs to be to win races as demanding as Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders, but Stuyven sees himself as more than a bike racer. As he enters his fourth season as a pro, he’s continuing his university studies in marketing, and recently opened, along with his uncle, a boutique chocolate store that makes and sells high-end Belgian chocolate.

At 24, Stuyven is seen as one of Belgium’s top prospects to lead the cycling-crazed nation into the next generation. He won the junior version of Paris-Roubaix in 2010, and last year he earned his first big classics win at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. So far this season, things look to be on track, with an eighth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and a second at Kuurne. After racing in Italy through most of March, with a third in the final road stage behind Fernando Gaviria and Peter Sagan at Tirreno-Adriatico, Stuyven is ready to step up for the northern classics.

VeloNews caught up with Stuyven at a team training camp and asked him about racing with Fabian Cancellara, his studies, his chocolate shop, and why he still wears a Livestrong wristband.

VN: Some big changes this year, with Cancellara leaving and Degenkolb coming on. Does that open things up for you?

Jasper Stuyven: In the past, we had one big leader and everything was for him. I think I showed by winning my “little classic” [2016 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne] that I am also able to be there, to win. So some things are changing, yes. We have more cards to play, and a stronger top field on the team. Our ambition is to win the big races as a team.

VN: You rode a few years alongside Cancellara. Did you learn anything that could be helpful to you in the future?

JS: That is such a typical question, but I think it’s really hard to answer. You only learn when you want to learn. It’s up to me to do the things he might have done, to listen to the things he said, if I want to hear it. Sure, there are some things, but it’s hard to give an example. It’s not as if I came from nothing. In Belgium, already the level is high when you are a junior, so you are learning over a long period of time. You learn the courses very young. There are some details that help after watching Fabian, but I do not want to give those details away. The most interesting thing to see was how the team works around that one big leader.

VN: For this year, the team will bring a different tactic with a few cards to play, with Degenkolb, yourself, and others; will it simply be who has the strongest legs on the day?

JS: You cannot go like that into a race as big and hard as Flanders. You have to have a plan. It’s not like that at all. You have to have a plan, and we will have a plan.

VN: Are you like most Belgians and dream of winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen?

JS: Actually, I prefer Roubaix. I just love to ride the cobbles. I have a good memory to win it as a junior. It was on the same day of the pros, so there were a lot of public. It was a really nice experience, and it made me love Roubaix.

VN: This is Boonen’s last season. How much contact have you had with him over the past few years?

JS: I do know him, and I got to know him a bit in California when I was on the Bontrager team. It’s not like we’re calling each other every week, but he is a friendly guy. It was a nice experience to have him as a leader in the worlds in Qatar. You see how Fabian was as a leader, and I could also see Tom as a leader. And you can learn from both of those styles.

VN: And it’s Boonen’s last year, but of course you guys will be racing to win at Roubaix?

JS: The race is on. It’s not because it is his last Roubaix that we will let him win …

VN: You also opened up a chocolate shop in Flanders; how did that come about?

JS: It opened just a week before I won Kuurne last year. It is with my uncle. He worked with chocolates throughout his career, and had a big business for 20 years that he sold because it was getting too big. He wanted to go back to his roots and open a nice, small, high-end shop that deals directly with the customer. He came to me to see if I was interested to start it as our last name, and it was quite interesting for me to have something going besides cycling. He was a big fan of cycling, and I have always been a fan of chocolate. It’s a nice partnership.

VN: Chocolate and a racer’s diet don’t mix too well, so how often do you get to try your products?

JS: I cannot eat my own chocolate too much. But the very dark chocolate is OK, and my uncle always makes me some as a special dessert after an important race. We also have some special chocolate Easter eggs, but we have to wait to eat those after Roubaix. Around Christmas, we celebrate with some chocolates, and sometimes it’s hard to hold back.

VN: Was starting a business outside of cycling something that was important to you?

JS: I never just wanted to ride my bike. My friends outside of cycling are very important to me. I am still studying, which I also like, so to be away from cycling a little bit is important. The business is something else to do, and it makes you busy. Cycling is not the only one and thing in my life, but of course, racing is the priority now.

VN: What are you studying at university?

JS: I am studying sales management. We will see if I continue or not. I try to take a few courses each semester, but it is not easy with so much training and racing. I try to finish them.

VN: I notice you are wearing a Livestrong wristband. You don’t see many of those these days, any particular reason?

JS: I got it when I raced on the Livestrong-Bontrager team, and we had to wear them. But later, one of my best friends’ father passed away from cancer, and then another friend’s mom had cancer. It gave me a lot of meaning that both of my parents are still here, and I felt bad for those friends of mine to lose their parents. I will keep wearing it as long as it lasts. I had more or less the same question the other day, but in a ruder way, but I really don’t care what people say. I wear it for my own reasons.

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