It feels, even three weeks out from the start of the Spring Classics, that the narrative for the cobbled and Ardennes races has already been inscribed: Mathieu van der Poel versus Wout van Aert.
But there’s two riders in particular – best of friends Jasper Stuyen and Mads Pedersen of Trek-Segafredo – who aren’t prepared to let the annals portray the 2021 Classics season as a two-up head-to-head between the two cyclocross sensations.
Either side of the first Covid-19 lockdowns, Stuyven and Pedersen both scored their maiden Classic victories in the 2020 season, the former winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Pedersen winning Ghent-Wevelgem.
Ahead of the 2021 edition of cycling’s much-loved collection of one-day races, 28-year-old Stuyven speaks confidently to Cycling Weekly when asked if he and former world champion Pedersen could form a dangerous partnership.
“I think so, yes, we certainly have the potential and Mads and I have been telling each other exactly that.
“We are really aiming to be there, the two of us, in every final of every race. That’s the aim for 2021.
“There’s also other strong riders like always, but if we are on our top level, like Mads mentioned once, we are a nice pair of kings to have on the poker table in any Classics race.
“It’s nice to know that if we go into a final with 15 guys and we are both there, if one of us gets up the road with a smaller group of five, we are both faster [than most] so we will have a high chance to win the race.”
Stuyven’s win at Omloop a year ago came courtesy of a winning break that formed with 71km to go and then beating Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) on the line.
Pedersen’s win at Ghent-Wevelgem, meanwhile, was highly impressive – the Dane launching a late attack to catch a leading group of three and then powering past them.
Together, Stuyven and Pedersen can use each other’s strengths – specifically, Stuyven’s tactical knowledge and Pedersen’s ever-improving sprinting speed – and play off against each other, using the numbers game like various guises of Deceunick-Quick-Step have used so successfully in the past three decades.
Stuyven adds: “If we get into the final, we will of course try as long as possible to keep both options open so that we can win the race, but we really understand when the other is on a better day which allows us to be like a super-domestique for the final. Not many teams have that and it makes a difference in winning a race.
“Mads and I are really good friends off the bike and if he wins a race I will be incredibly happy, and he if I win.
“The friendship we have built extends to off the bike and it pushes each other to the next level. It motivates us to be together in the finals and race the finals of races together and win races together.”
Stuyven acknowledges that he doesn’t have the finishing speed to rival Pedersen, Van der Poel or Van Aert, but says that he can use his skills in a different way to force a win for Trek-Segafredo.
“Wout, Mathieu, Mads, those guys have a fast finish so it’s hard for me to go into the finish with them and count on my sprint,” he accepts.
“So it’s about realising what the other guys are doing and you have to try and guess what they are thinking and doing.
“Omloop gave me more confirmation that if I race more on good feeling – like how I have won most of my races – it pays off.
“Of course, racing in that kind of way requires a little bit more energy, but I know that in the finals I can make the right calls and have the legs to finish it off.”
The question, then, is will Stuyven and Pedersen combine together to take the attention away from Van der Poel and Van Aert? “I will try to be in the best possible shape from Omloop to Amstel [Gold].
“It won’t be possible to be on a top level all of the time, but if one of those weeks it’s happening, I would love to win another Classic. Any.
“I won’t say we are the best team, but we are definitely one of the strongest teams out there, and on a good day we are not afraid to take risks into our own hands.”
So will they win? “Yes, yes we will.”