Jasper Stuyven raced a Paris-Roubaix beyond his years: off the front in a key breakaway for almost 40 kilometers, making the final decisive split of seven riders, and ultimately finishing in 4th place. Without a doubt, the 24-year-old put on a performance that showed he has a bright future in the iconic Monument.
"I enjoyed today; I really like this race," said a fatigued Stuyven. "It was very dusty, but the conditions didn't bother me. I am happy with the fourth, happy to finish the classics season with a good result. The last weeks have not been so great, disappointing for me and the team. It does not save my Classics season, but it was a nice reward. For the future, my goal has not changed: I want to try and win this race once."
There were more cobblestones for the 115th running of Paris-Roubaix, but that did not slow down the pace, a recorded average speed of 45.204 kp/h, the fastest to date.
Trek-Segafredo instigated the first serious split in the peloton by forcing the pace into sector 17, and when Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) countered shortly afterward, Stuyven attentively marked the move.
Then Sagan flatted and his teammate Maciej Bodnar waited, leaving Stuyven and Daniel Oss (BMC) at the front of the race for the next 35 kilometers.
My goal has not changed: I want to try and win this race once.
"Today was a really fast race, and we were always good; in good position," explained Stuyven. "Katusha made some accelerations on the early sectors and made the peloton split pretty fast. I think after Arenberg we still had a lot of our guys in the front and we made some action. It was a good moment to split the field and a good timing to go with Sagan and Bodnar. Sagan flatted and of course Bodnar waited, leaving me and Oss.
"You always spend energy in a break, but we were not killing each other, we just made a good tempo. If you look back on that, I think it was smart, because after that it was tailwind. We rode together until after Mons-en-Pévèle."
Three chasers caught the leading pair before a group of 10 that included John Degenkolb joined forces, forming 15 leaders with 40 kilometers remaining. With most of the favorites there, it was not long before the action reheated, and attacks soon forced another split.
"Three guys came up and then the chasing group came back," continued Stuyven. "Then there were a lot of attacks – I followed some, and then I went again."
With Oss leading solo after attacking, six riders formed a chase group that included Stuyven. They soon grabbed back Oss, but sector four, Carrefour de l'Arbre, spelled the end for Stuyven who lost the wheels when Greg Van Avermaet accelerated over the five-star rated cobblestones.
Van Averamaet, Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac) emerged from sector four together. This trio would quickly gain 30 seconds to the chasing pair of Stuyven and Gianni Moscon (Sky), while the peloton that contained John Degenkolb and Edward Theuns were a further minute in arrears.
"On the Carrefour [de l'Arbre], I was hoping with the headwind I could maybe close it but the 20 meters after the Carrefour became 50, and the 50 became 100…" Stuyven explained, his voice trailing off.
"I was with Moscon, and we rode together. He is also young – I think younger than me – so for him, it was also a great result. We knew we had to give it all."
Three guys in the top 10 is good, but when you have three guys there, it's a shame that you cannot be on the podium.
The three leaders slowed and eyed each other in a game of cat and mouse in the final kilometer, enabling Stuyven and Moscon to latch on with 300 meters to go, just in time for the sprint to ignite.
"On the track, we came back, but they had slowed down looking at each other, so it means they had a lot of time to recover. You could feel that in the sprint me and Moscon were completely dead and they just launched away from us."
Jasper could do little more than hold on for fourth ahead of Moscon, while the peloton arrived 12 seconds later with Edward Theuns sprinting to 8th and John Degenkolb 10th – the team missed the podium, but three in the top 10 revealed the depth of a strong Trek-Segafredo team.
More team reactions:
John Degenkolb: "Katusha tried to make it really hard from the beginning, and then we opened the race after the Arenberg, and it worked out quite good. From this moment on Jasper was in the front group. Of course, they came back, it was always changing, but we were always in the front group, except for after the Carrefour de l'Arbre."
Koen de Kort: "I punctured going into the first sectors, chased, got caught behind crashes, and finally got back when I made a small mistake and almost crashed. I rode into a field and had to get off my bike to get a back on the road and then had to chase for two sectors again.
"After I had got back, I went into the Mons-en-Pévèle first, with Edward and John on my wheel, I think that was a pretty crucial point. In the end, I did what I could for John – and I guess Jasper too, although I never did see him in the race!
"We ended with three guys in the top 10, and that is not too bad I would say. I think we can be pretty proud of this team effort. The other guys too, everyone did his fair share of the work, Mads [Pedersen] and Matthias [Brändle] in the beginning, and later Boy was there for a really long time."
Edward Theuns: "We were grouped as a team riding in the front and two sectors after the forest [Trouée d'Arenberg] we wanted to go, and we opened it up there. We did a great race: Three guys in the top 10 is good, but when you have three guys there, it's a shame that you cannot be on the podium.
"I didn't feel my back today. I was a bit scared about it because the last week and a half it was a bit worse than before, but we have a great bike for the cobbles, and I had the right pressure in my tires. I am super, super happy: nine months after my crash and I finish in the top 10 in Paris-Roubaix! Even last year before the crash in the Tour, I would be surprised to finish in the top 10 here. I thought the big Classics of Flanders and Roubaix are a little too hard for me. I worked really hard for this; I have felt I have made a big step forward and I am happy that I could be there in a big Monument."
All photos ©Bettiniphoto