Photographed by Emily Maye. The second in a series about Jasper.
Jasper Stuyven has been one of the best riders in his class since he began cycling. In spite of the temptation to accept the money and prestige offered by moving to the Pro Tour as quickly as possible, he has taken a measured approach to his career: racing for the Bontrager Pro Cycling Team and the Belgian National Team, and after three years of U23 racing, he’s now ready to make the jump.
For young Belgian riders, the competition is tough and a rider’s career potential is determined very early. Jasper’s path is not one of overcoming odds or of moving from last place to first. He has developed steadily from the top of one level to the to of the next, consistently over time, through each step of the development process. But that wasn’t by talent alone. Jasper is eager to learn, hard-working, driven, and surprisingly well-rounded as human being. He prepares as much as possible and lets things go that are out of his control. He’s the first guy ready to ride in the morning and the first guy asking to ride longer. He’s a good teammate and a natural leader. He seems entirely equipped for the next level. (What follows is in Jasper's own words.)
I started with a competition when I was 12 and found a local team. Races were 20km, 25km, and that’s a lot when you’re 12. Every year I got a little better: top 5, podium, first win, and at 15 I got my first offers for transfer to a bigger Belgian team. I thought, "Ok, what’s going on with cycling?" It was going well. I went to a team that was about 25 minutes from my house and my Junior racing got a little more serious. At 17, I won the World Championships. Then Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. Now I’m U23, and some say it’s still not that serious and you’re still playing around. But I don’t think so.
When you know you will go further, it’s serious.
If you raced as a Junior and weren’t very good and were always getting dropped and then all of a sudden you're successful—that’s weird. You have to get better and better, consistently, to go to the next level successfully. A lot of it depends how you train along the way; you can’t just rest on being good as a Junior. You have to put that behind you, and build on it to be good in U23.
Sometimes I get messages on Facebook from 12 and 13 year olds and they ask how I train and what I eat and what they should do. I always say, “Just have fun.” You have to be sensible. Don’t eat frites, but every cyclist knows that. Just have fun. If you feel like you have to ride 100km as a 12 year old to get better, that’s way too much. But if you really want to do it, just do it. Have fun. But don’t feel like you have to do it.
If it feels like a chore at 14 you’ll never make it.1
It’s important to have race sense in addition to being a strong rider. I think it’s what you need to win races. To see everything. To see the race: when things are going to happen, which is the right break. It comes from experience and often I can do that a little better than other riders. It’s who you are a little bit, your personality. And maybe a little bit comes from being Belgian, having so many years of experience and seeing so many races.
I was offered contracts to move up last year and I chose not to. I thought I should stay another year in development. I raced well and I felt good but in the end I just didn’t have the results I wanted. Maybe it was bad luck, but you have to be honest with yourself too—maybe I just wasn’t good enough. I want to win big races before I move up. I was at the top as a Junior but that was only two years. It wasn’t enough time to develop into the top of U23. I want to be ready to move up when I do leave for the next level.
I want to know everything. I want to win races.
WINNING IS LEARNING
If you want to win races as a pro you have to win races. Winning is how you learn to win. That’s why Cancellara is the favorite at Roubaix or Flanders. He can win it.
They say when you get your first victory you’re good for the next one. But you have to believe you can win before you actually start doing it, otherwise it'll never happen. Sometimes that's hard to do. You start to question if you can win, because it has been so long.
That’s when I take a break. That’s why I take college classes. To do something that is not cycling and to take a mental break. I always say cycling is 30%-40% in your head. I prepare mentally for a race and I think that gives an extra 5% at the finish—I really believe that. You can motivate yourself that way. It makes you train harder and maybe it will make you win. It’s in your head and you visualize how you’re gonna do it.2
I could stay in U23 another year but I want to move up after this year, I think I am ready for it. I would like to get experience with some guys that I can truly learn from. Classic guys like Fabian or Boonen. I do think it will be less fun on the team than we have right now with Bontrager. That’s the only thing I don’t look forward to as much.
- 1st UCI Junior Road Race World Championships, 2009
- 1st Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, 2010
- 3rd UCI Junior Road Race World Championships, 2010
- 2nd Paris-Roubaix Espoirs, 2011
- 1st Provincial Road Championships, 2012
- 5th Tour of California Stage 1 (Best Young Rider), 2013
- 1st Volta ao Alentejo, 2013
- 1st Volta ao Alentejo Stage 2, 2013
- 1st Tour de Beauce Stage 1, 2013
- 3rd Liège-Bastogne-Liège Espoirs, 2013