Skujins ahead of schedule with strong early season form

On his second day of racing with Trek-Segafredo, Toms Skujins was already a winner. The 26-year-old Latvian surged to victory last month at the Trofeo Lloseta-Andratx.

Skujins could hardly have hoped for a better start to his season. He’s only just returning from the collarbone injury that has bothered him since his crash at last year’s Tour of California. Nonetheless, he is already looking strong.

“I’ve never won this early,” he told VeloNews at the Dubai Tour. “January is never my month because in December I’m usually still rolling around in the snow and making snow angels. It was definitely a surprise.”

Skujins signed with Trek this past winter after two years with Slipstream. His stint in Argyle produced a pair of UCI wins: stage victories at the Tour of California and the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali. He’s halfway to that win count just a few weeks into his Trek experience.

Skujins wasn’t the only Trek rider to enjoy success in January. John Degenkolb also claimed victory in two of the Mallorca one-days. Ryan Mullen and Giacomo Nizzolo took stages at the Vuelta a San Juan. Youngster Mads Pedersen stormed to victory on stage 2 of the Herald Sun Tour.

“Obviously the work I’ve put in and the work the team has put in on every rider is paying off. The team has added a little bit more detail to some tiny things and it’s clearly working,” Skujins said.

“Training, nutrition, we have a new nutritionist working with the team, that’s helping out. All the aero testing we’ve done — Ryan won a TT. All those little details are key to winning in a sport where everything comes down to just a little bit of luck and energy saved.”

The team’s hot start is one big reason Skujins is enjoying his new digs, but there are others as well. The atmosphere is another element that has Skujins riding high this winter.

“I’ve got say Trek and Cannondale have one huge thing in common, and that’s both being really international teams,” Skujins said. “On Cannondale, I think we had like 14 nationalities and on Trek, we have like 18 now, which is insane. That helps.

“There’s no real group that no one gets into, like if you were one guy with like 30 Italians on a team, and you’re like, ‘Okay, I’m not sure how I’m going to fit in here.’ Everyone is really welcoming and that’s super nice.”

With his best years likely still ahead of him, Skujins has time to figure out what he aspires to be as a racer. His punchy style and versatile skill set make him a natural stage-hunter. A few one-days may match up with his abilities as well.

No matter the type of race, the results should come more easily now that he’s broken his proverbial duck.

“I’ve ticked off the first win of the year. That’s a really nice thing to have,” he said. “For sure I’ll try to be as good as I can for the Ardennes. I have a big block coming up where I do [the Volta a] Catalunya and [the Vuelta al] País Vasco. That should propel me well into the Ardennes and then hopefully I’ll come back for California.”

From there, Skujins will assess his form and the team will flesh out the rest of his 2018 calendar. Nothing is set in stone just yet, but a Vuelta start is on Skujins’s radar. The lumpy road world championships in Austria is a late-season target, and he sees the Vuelta as the ideal build-up to worlds.

Most importantly, Skujins is focused on taking things as they come, this season and beyond. He surged to prominence as a Continental rider with a gutsy breakaway stage victory in the 2015 Tour of California. He has since stepped up to the WorldTour and rounded out his skill set, but he hasn’t lost sight of the stage-hunter mentality.

He is a strong climber and he says he has been working hard to improve against the clock, but the general classification battles are only of so much interest to Skujins.

“If I could win those races then I would try, but I don’t think I can, so I’d rather have some fun in a stage or two,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s nice to go for a GC result — but I definitely prefer actually being up front and making people hurt over just trying not to get dropped.”

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