‘My feelings were on and off today, but I am happy that I kept fighting.’
In the final 50 kilometers, Jasper Stuyven did not have the legs to follow the attacks on the steep cobbled climbs in Ronde de Vlaanderen, but he never gave in. Often on the back-foot and chasing back to the leaders, he used his savviness to get back into podium contention when all looked lost after the Kruisberg – the moment the race-winning move happened, and the chasing group he was with, fell over 30 seconds behind.
“I had to ride smart today. In the finale, I also had to ride smart, but the strongest were upfront. In my opinion, there was a group of 5 who were alternating who was better on which climb. We had good group behind; we kept it rolling. For some climbs, I was feeling really good, but I was struggling a bit with the steep ones today. My feelings were on and off, but I am happy that I kept fighting,” said Stuyven.
In Flanders, everything can change in a heartbeat. When the chasing group caught the third man on the road, Wout van Aert, and the gap to the two leaders stood less than 25 seconds in the flat run-in, there was a glimmer of hope that all was not quite over yet.
But the air went out of the chasing group when they could not pull closer in the final eight kilometers leaving Mathieu van der Poel and Kasper Asgreen to fight out the win and the Flanders glory going to Asgreen this year.
But a prized third podium step still awaited the chasers – standing on the podium in De Ronde is a big achievement – and there was still one battle remaining.
Inside the final three kilometers, Greg Van Avermaet attacked. At first, a very tired Stuyven hesitated, and then he jumped too.
“I didn’t react immediately and then thought, okay, let’s go. I mean, I felt it was going to be super hard, and also, when he took over from me, I could feel there was a difference in power,” explained Stuyven. “In the sprint, I tried, but it was pretty clear that I didn’t have the legs anymore for third.”
Stuyven tried but after a few pedal strokes, sat down again. A Flanders podium would have to wait another year. But in his 8th Ronde de Vlaanderen, fourth is his best result, topping his 7th place in 2018. And when you know that you could not have done anything more in arguably the hardest one-day race on the UCI calendar, that’s pretty sweet, too.
“I think it’s nice to get a 4th place in the end,” added Stuyven. “In Flanders, it’s my best result, and it’s not so bad to get 1st and 4th in the first two Monuments of the season. I have to be happy; of course, I wish that I would have finished it with a podium, but that’s how it is.”