Written and photographed by Emily Maye. The third in a series about Jasper.
The Night Before The Race.
Of the 69 Editions of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen Beloften,1 62 have been won by a Belgian rider. The U23 race covers a course similar to the professional edition, making the loop outside of Oudenaarde and over the cobbled hills that make that make the race famous. Since the announcement that the U23 Paris-Roubaix would be canceled this year, Jasper Styuven has marked the Ronde Van Vlaanderen Beloften as a target for his season.
The day before the race, Jasper arrives late in the afternoon to the team hotel and is left with the smaller bed in the room he shares with his Belgian National Team Teammate. When I arrive, Jasper meets me at the front door of the small hotel, eating an apple.
“I have new jersey for the Belgian National Team. It’s blue, but it’s different blue. You can help me decide. Blue or Blue?” (What follows is in Jasper's own words.)
It’s hard picking the kit for the national team. I have a new jersey with a different blue and I need glasses to match. Everything has to be just perfect for such a big race. You want everything in line.
I think it’s important that what you wear is matching. It shows, people notice, it’s important.
Last year we went to France and this guy had a Bianchi bike with pink handlebar tape, but he was wearing yellow and blue booties. And I thought, “Man, you just don't do that!” He thought it was alright, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that. It has to be just right. I clean my shoes—every spot. It’s better if they’re shiny and good. The details matter.
WATCHING THE PROS
When I watch the races I don’t yell at the TV thinking a rider should do this or that. But sometimes you watch it and think, "hmm that guy should try this." You get an idea in your mind of what options you have, what you can try. Moreso, it’s knowing and understanding the roads they are on.2 I could ride Roubaix with my eyes closed. You analyze what’s next on the roads, like, "Here is where you go up the bridge and then go left; you have to stay on the lefthand side." You remember that, and you think of where you would need to place yourself. There’s a lot of that.
When you know the roads that well, you sometimes feel like you're there yourself, when in fact you're sitting in front of a TV.
FABIAN CANCELLARA & U23 Flanders
Fabian’s the favorite for the win because he is the guy that can win it, it's established. He’s won before. He’s better than other riders. He knows what to do and when to do it. He has the confidence to do it. And the thing is, Fabian has a team around him that controls the race—it's not just individual qualifications.
After 220 kilometers, the guys who are the best are going to be in front and those guys are Fabian and Peter [Sagan]. That’s the problem for us tomorrow in Beloften, the finale is very difficult and everyone will be scared of it. And there will be no Cancellara, no Sagan. Anything can happen. The most important section is the Molenberg: from there on, you have to be out front if you want to win. All the hills and all the cobblestones, it’s a special race. Maybe you aren’t riding all-out the whole time, but you can feel it in your legs if you’ve been in the wind too much. You have to ride it smart.
It’s Belgium. It’s Flanders.