Stuyven third after a thrilling performance at the Tour de France

Jasper gives an impressive solo effort and almost steals the win in stage 14

It was another nail-biting finish for Jasper Stuyven at the Tour de France and another attempt that just fell short after a bold 30-kilometer solo effort for stage 14 Saturday. Similar to his near-win in stage two at the 2016 Tour, Stuyven again threw caution to the wind and with nothing to lose made a daring attack out of the breakaway to try and pilfer the victory from much stronger climbers and more favored riders.

“Afterwards you can always say it was too early, this and that, but it was a big group, some strong climbers, and I had to go before and not wait until they make an explosion. I played, I went all-in, and I lost,” Stuyven said afterward.

Trek-Segafredo teammate Michael Gogl was also part of the 32-rider escape group that was granted full freedom to ride for the stage win. Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain Merida) was the first to put in a hard attack with 60kms to go, and Jasper Stuyven was the first to react. Realizing his opportunity, he jumped again on the descent, and with Tom-Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data), the pair quickly bridged to Izagirre.

When the organization fell apart in the leading trio, and Izagirre and Slagter began having words, a focused Stuyven rode on.

“I think it was a good moment, Slagter was not pulling at all, or like 5K slower. I am not sure if he didn’t want to, or couldn’t, I don’t know. And when Izagirre and Slagter started playing and looking at each other, I thought why not try and went for it,” Stuyven explained.

“I didn’t start my attack just to come on TV, it was for victory,” added Stuyven. “I had a plan to go early because I have nothing to lose. I had a good gap, but not good enough. I think I paced well, but there was such steep parts, and it was really hard for me and my 80 kilos to keep speed.”

Stuyven’s gap grew and with it his belief.

“I think I made the best of it, I had to try early, that was my chance, and you start believing in it when you have almost 2mins, but 25kms going full-gas against the wind and with 2kms at over 10%…I am really disappointed.”

With 1 minute and 40 seconds advantage over the rest of the breakaway, Stuyven began the final three-kilometer steep climb. If he could make it to the top with a handful of seconds, he knew he could hold on for the last 1.5 kilometers to the finish.

After one kilometer his gap was still a solid minute. It all seemed possible. Then it began to fall. Fast.

“After the first steep kilometer I was still believing, I still had a good gap, but then I just felt that my legs were so empty. I tried to keep the cadence high, but in the last steep kilometer, I really was dying.”

Stuyven’s lead crumbled in the final part of the climb. When Omar Fraile (Astana) caught and passed him the heartbreak was felt everywhere.

“The last kilometer on the climb hurt the most. I kinda hoped that after I got over the top I could speed up and catch him back, but I think he caught me 2-300 meters too early on the steep part. I didn’t have any acceleration on the steep part, and the moment it flattened out, I could gain speed again, but he had 10 or 15-second gap already, and I couldn’t close it anymore.”

Fraile soloed over the line for the win. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) also caught an exhausted Stuyven, who had no fight left, and rolled across for second with a disappointed Stuyven taking third.

“It’s really disappointing but what can I do? I knew it was a steep climb and it would be hard for me. I am one of the heavier guys in the peloton, and when it gets steeper, it’s hard to keep the high speed. I knew I had to anticipate with all the climbers in the breakaway, and I think I did that pretty well, but it was just too long, too steep. Of course, I started believing in it, but I also gave a lot of energy in the 28kms before [the climb] to gain my time. The tank was empty at the end. That’s how it is.”

The most combative award was little consolidation for Stuyven who has been in superb form for all the entire Classics season and again for the Tour, but still chasing a win.

“They always say there will be other chances coming, but from my experience, you only get one or maybe two chances in a Grand Tour for the rider that I am. I think I have been riding strong all year but no victory so far, and that’s been the story of my season.”

“I gave it my all, and it was not enough. Of course, later I will start thinking about “ifs” but I went all-in, so I have no regrets.”