Toms Skujins | Taking Stock
We’re chatting to Toms Skujiņš’, who’s just finished stage 2 of the Tour de Provence and finds time between his massage and dinner for a chat, lamenting the danger in the peloton on that day “The peloton doesn’t get more calm over the years,” he muses, “on the French roads, it is a little bit crazy. There are always a few guys that are ready to risk a bit too much for just a chance to be in good position; there were several crashes that were just unnecessary.”
Having raced at the Challenge Mallorca, he’s got a few racing days in the legs already, while Provence is his first stage race of the season. “It went well [today], but could have gone better... Yeah, I definitely feel like the winter has been good, and the body is ready for some racing” He finishes second the next day to Philippe Gilbert, showing that the winter was indeed pretty good.
It’s has to be good for him to match 2018, as his move to Trek Segafredo brought unexpected success. Recruited as a helper-domestique, he showed he can do far more than just that by spending time in the Tour De France Polka Dot Jersey and taking four wins overall; the highlight being the Tre Valli Varesine Classic in October.
Skujiņš found himself in the winning break, having been aggressive all day long, and beat Thibaut Pinot, who’d been winning everything in sight during that period of the season, in the small bunch kick.
That win at Tre Valli, those days in the spots, and some slick dance moves he delivered on the final straight at Laguna Seca in the Tour of California last year all helped vault the Latvian higher up in the average cycling fan’s consciousness. However, Skujiņš is still measured while talking about his goals for this season, with the team’s goals front of mind.
“The team is taking me to Strade [Bianchi] and Tirreno [-Adriatico] and I even get to ride San Remo with Jasper [Stuyven] and John [Degenkolb] . So it’s gonna be amazing to be there, and we’ll be aiming really high. The way I see the team this year, I feel like we can pull something off.”
A return to the Tour is also on the cards. This year, it’s going to be tough to find a spot on Trek-Segafredo’s team for La Grande Boucle; they’ve recruited Richie Porte which means a fair portion of the squad will be allocated towards the helping the Tasmanian chase his goals.
A rider like Skujiņš presents a good option for Grand Tour squads – there’s no chance of him going rogue on the job but he could take advantage of any situations that arise. It’s not too hard to see him making the squad again, and he’s bullish about his chances too.
“I’m hoping to be [selected] yeah, the tour team is always difficult to be there. But I also wouldn’t want go to the tour just because the team said they want to take me. I would want to go because the team sees a role that I can play, and I’m fit and ready to do that to the best of my ability.”
With California having been such a happy hunting ground for him over the years, he’ll head back there too. That also gives him the chance to spend a training block in nearby Boulder, Colorado.
“I think it’s a good build up for the Tour to be in good shape there [Cali]. It’s a good race to switch the stress levels off, before really fully committing for the Tour. The roads are a bit larger, so it’s easier to move around, but still the racing’s really hard so you get fit. There’s always some sunshine and the fans are awesome.”
For this season then, it’s about finding again what spurred success last year’s success. But what exactly was it? The Trek-Segafredo team hasn’t been one that’s pulled the best from every rider that’s gone there, but Skujiņš took wins in every part of the season and was one of the squad’s most valuable support riders. So what does he think it was about the team?
“The atmosphere, starting from the very top. The mentality of just having fun and racing hard, being serious at the same time. We do some cool stuff; we travel to crazy locations and race bikes.
At the end of the day. it’s just bike racing, but it gives you the opportunity to inspire people. Not just to get on the bike, but to explore and be active, to be fit to be healthy, that’s what we try and do.”