The young Brit shot into the headlines last month when he was forced into the barriers in the Cholet-Pays de la Loire bunch-kick by Bouhanni’s wayward line. In the fallout of the incident, Stewart remained front-and-center for his robust criticism of the Frenchman via Twitter, and his subsequent condemnation of the surge of racism directed toward his rival.
It’s clear that Stewart is not nervous of vocalizing his opinions on the topics that count.
Yet after being left sidelined with a broken hand by the Pays de la Loire incident just as he was emerging as one of the most promising tough-guy sprinters in the bunch, the 21-year-old is itching to getting back to making statements on the scoresheet rather than on social media.
“I’ve had a couple of interviews about Bouhanni but, yeh … “ Stewart said cautiously. “When people are ringing me to just get a story about Bouhanni for clicks, it’s frustrating, definitely.
“I see it’s a big talking point and everyone wants an opinion on it, but I made my opinion pretty clear on it when it happened and then afterward in the last week or so with the stuff around racism,” Stewart told VeloNews. “I just hope when I’m racing again people will be calling about that.”
Stewart certainly has the potential to hit the headlines for his results rather than his online profile.
In the weeks before hitting the barriers after at the Cholet-Pays de la Loire, the punchy sprinter landed a career-topping second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and a string of top-10s at Étoile de Bessèges and Nokere Korsere. It was a run of results that even took Stewart by surprise as he dive-bombed into his first full WorldTour season.
“Going so well at Bessèges was a big surprise. I didn’t really have an idea what kind of condition I was in because I’d not been to a training camp, so I didn’t know what would happen,” he said. “I’m still 21 years old, and to step up from U23 to the WorldTour is not a small thing. I’m racing against seasoned pros and guys who are the best in the sport, so I did not really expect to be this good this early on.”
For Stewart, kicking to second-place at the hotly-contested Omloop sprint has come with a repercussion – being shoe-horned into an easily identifiable category.
“I’d say I’m probably a classics, punchy sprinter,” he said. “I’ve said it so many times, I’m by no means a pure sprinter and that’s what a lot of people have kind of lazily pigeonholing me as in the past few months. I’m definitely a classics punchy kind of rider – I get my best results when I’m sprinting from a smaller group. But I’m still discovering my strengths and what kind of rider I’ll be in the future. It’s quite hard to put my finger on it now still being so young.”
Setting the record straight
Stewart stepped up from the team’s continental squad in the fall of 2020 and immediately impressed in the fall classics. After continuing the upward trajectory this winter, Groupama-FDJ is giving Stewart the freedom to move and its full support when he returns from injury at the Tour de Romandie this month.
Whether you see it on a scoresheet or in your social feed, it seems likely that you’ll be seeing Stewart’s name again sometime soon.
As well as voicing his opinion on “that” sprint and the rise of racist abuse that followed, the 21-year-old has been active in speaking out about rider safety, sexist abuse in the women’s peloton, and the UCI’s clampdown on bottle tossing.
“It’s not that I feel we need a particular platform, they’re just my opinions and I’m going to make them if I’ve got an opinion on something I want to voice and try and raise awareness,” he said. “Things that happened with regards to stuff like that is pretty sickening. I think it needs someone to speak about it, and if I’m speaking about it and trying to raise awareness about it then at least I’m trying to help.”
Speaking the same day that news broke that his former conti squad teammate Théo Nonnez was calling time on his career due to burnout despite being just 21-years-old, Stewart was also upfront in asserting that many reports of the Frenchman’s retirement “only told half the story for clicks.”
Be warned. Jake Stewart has got fire in his belly, rockets in his heels and misconceptions to remedy. He won’t be quietening down any time soon.
[1/2] Despite our recent difference of opinion, let's be absolutely clear, I stand united with @BouhanniNacer. We will all agree and disagree on certain things, but one thing that should not be of question is racism…
— Jake (@jakey_stewart) April 6, 2021