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'I want to be Jasper, not the next Boonen' - Stuyven on the pressures of being a Belgian cobbles star

Joe Robinson
25 Apr 2018

The young Belgian has the talent for cobbled success but is clearly not taking much for granted

Jasper Stuyven is Mr Consistent. So much so that even his own Trek-Segafredo teammates have begun calling him by this nickname. It's deserved when you consider that in the six races from Milan-San Remo to Paris-Roubaix, Stuyven's worst result was 10th.

The Belgian raced to 10th at Milan-San Remo, seventh at the Tour of Flanders and fifth at Paris-Roubaix, which at 26-years-old, is quite a fine achievement. Most riders would take these results in a heartbeat but for a rider as talented as Stuyven, he couldn't help but be disappointed.

'Initially after the races, I wasn't happy with my results because I felt that I was one of the strongest guys in each race but everything was not falling into the right places for me to win,' Stuyven admitted.

'But then a week after Roubaix, I started realising that I actually had a really good Classics campaign and really, it's not so easy to ride top 10 in every Classic.

'I didn't have an off day, the team road well together and at times we all were made to look like amatuers by Quick-Step Floors [the dominant team this Spring].

'How do we stop them? No idea.'

Regardless of leaving Spring empty handed, holding this rich vein of form for three weeks is something only a few riders are capable of doing and this impressive run of results led to the inevitable conversation in his native Belgium, that Stuyven could be 'the next Tom Boonen'. 

It's a constant pressure put upon any young Belgian who performs well in the Classics. It was the 'next Rik Van Looy' originally, then the 'next Eddy Merckx', the 'next Johan Museeuw' and now 'the next Tom Boonen'.

Stuyven's name was uttered by the Flemish public as early as 2010 when he won the Junior Paris-Roubaix as junior road race World Champion, and then those utterances became louder following an impressive solo victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in 2016.

The emergence of Tiesj Benoot took Stuyven briefly out of the public eye but this Spring sprung him back, although the pressure is clearly not welcomed.

'Every year we have somebody new,' he said. 'You perform well for one year and you become the guy. Another young rider wins and then he is the next Boonen.

'Now people are saying Jasper Philpsen from Hagens Berman Axeon,' stressed Stuyven.  

'We are always fast to find the next Tom Boonen and in my opinion the public put too much pressure on us Belgian riders. I just want to be Jasper Stuyven.'

While Stuyven is avoiding the title of the next Boonen, he is not avoiding mirroring his palmares, especially Roubaix, a race the 26-year-old holds close to his heart.

As previously mentioned, he took a victory cobble as a junior and despite being proudly Flemish he regards the 'Hell of the North' as the most special race in Spring.

'Roubaix is that one race that uses roads that only get raced on once a year. At Flanders, we race the Semi-Classics up the same climbs all Spring so it's not as unique.

'But at Roubaix, it is just one race and that is special.'

Stuyven is clearly one of the most talented Classics riders in the professional peloton currently. Victory at a Monument would not be a surprise and don't bet against him taking Stage 9 of this year's Tour de France which visits 15 sectuers of pave.

If the cards fall right Stuyven could carve an impressive palmares but is overly aware that this is not a given, and his life off the bike tells us that.

Often, professional cyclists can be pigeonholed as just an athlete when in reality most are much more than a bike rider.

Delve a little deeper and you find that many within the peloton have unique lives outside of the cycling world. Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) is a fanatical Flemish farmer and Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) develops computer software for example.

For Stuyven, life away from the peloton largely consists of running an artisan chocolate-atelier company with his uncle in the small village of Betekom, five minutes from his hometown of Leuven. 

Alongside the manufacturing of chocolate, its the slow but steady path towards a degree in sales management. Both clear indicators of Stuyven's plan for life beyond cycling. 

'It is too hot for chocolate at the moment but the business is doing really well after two years and we had a strong December through to Easter,' he said.

'Then with the studying, I am still doing it, not so much these days because I'm paid to race bikes but I do what I can in my free time.

'I like to push myself and I want the option of not having to stay in cycling once I have retired.'