Jasper Steven: The Olympics are losing value for cyclists

Jasper Stuyven believes the decision to reduce the men’s field to 90 in the road race at the Paris Olympics was a mistake and that some of the luster has been lost on the event.

To achieve parity between the men’s and women’s disciplines, cycling’s governing body (UCI) and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) have reduced the men’s field to 90 competitors – the same number of athletes who will compete in the women’s race, up from 67 in Tokyo.

Criticism has been leveled at the sport’s governing bodies for the small teams allocated to the competitions, with a maximum of four competitors for the world’s top nations. Stuyven’s Belgium has four spots for the men’s races, with Remco Evenepoel and Wout van Aert leading the team.

Stuyven, who has yet to represent Belgium at the Olympics, believes that reducing the men’s field, while making riders race 273km, undermines the value of the showpiece races.

“With the reduction in the size of the peloton, the Olympics lose a lot of value for the cyclists because they are no longer cycling competitions,” he said GCN at the Lidl-Trek training camp in Calpe, Spain.

“Just to level it with the women’s peloton is just…. We have to do 290km with 90 riders, so I think it should be a bike race, not just thinking about having the same amount of riders as the women.”

Stuyven is not the only competitor to criticize the decision made to reduce the size of the men’s field. According to the Belgian rider, the race, although unpredictable due to the lack of control, could end within the first hour.

“You can’t control that. It may finish in 10 minutes. It can be like worlds with a crazy peloton or it can be a super boring race. After 10 km, if Belgian and Dutch riders clear and if eight riders attack, who will chase? If one side misses it, who will try to bring it back with just a few riders? It could be an eight-man 20km race. It’s just not good for 90 riders. It’s unfortunate that this decision was made, but we have to deal with it and still try to make the team. I would still like to go. I haven’t competed in the Olympics before and it’s a goal in my mind.

“I would like to go but we have to be realistic because there are only two places. It’s very difficult to get into the team. We have four places in total, but Vut and Remko are in the team,” he added.

Stuyven’s main focus in 2024 will again be on the Spring Classics, where he will lead the line alongside Mads Pedersen. Stuyven had a disappointing spring this year, with his best finish being 10th at Milan-San Remo. Bad luck with crashes set him back and he sometimes had to work for Pedersen.

The former Milan-San Remo winner is targeting a successful comeback in 2024 with the hope that a top result in the classics can land him in the squad for the Olympics.

“The spring, it wasn’t great for me. I’ve had my share of bad luck in the Classics and I’m judged on those races. If you don’t perform there, for whatever reason, then you’re on the Tour, and this year it wasn’t a race for the kind of competitor that I am. At the end of the year I was competitive and I was fighting for the win in the races I did, but if I end up a little behind, there’s nothing you can do about it. It gives a bad feel to the season but there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said GCN.

“I used to be lucky to win the Classic every year, but now I’m not doing it for the second year in a row. Everything was falling into place, but now it’s the other side for me. I had these two crashes, five or six flat tires and some bad moments,” he added.

During the off-season, Lidl-Trek strengthened their team in almost every area. Tao Geoheghan Hart signed for the US team and will target the Tour de France, while Jonathan Millan and Tim Declerck bolstered the Classics core.

“I’m still so motivated, that’s for sure. If I wasn’t, I’d be slowing down, but that’s not the case. There are still many good things to achieve and overall we have a stronger team, not just for Classics but for everything. We have a lot of new guys and it’s exciting. We’ve got Tim and Jonathan and you can’t compare them because they’re different, but we’ve made the team stronger in every way,” Steven said.

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