Team Sky’s pre-classics training camp on Mount Teide has not borne the fruit many had anticipated but Ian Stannard denied that the squad felt under any additional pressure ahead of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
Stannard’s own attacking display at frozen Milan-San Remo aside, the men in black have fallen short of their lofty expectations so far this spring. The 254 kilometres over the pavé to Roubaix mark their last chance to put a different spin on their classics campaign.
“I don’t think we need a result,” Stannard said. “I think we’ve ridden really well, the training’s gone really well and there are lots and lots of positives that we can take from it. Obviously it would be nice to finish it off with a podium in Roubaix but it’s not all about this year. It’s about learning for next year as well. It’s not all about this weekend.”
Even so, this weekend is what we have come to discuss, and the man who looms large over Sunday’s proceedings is one Fabian Cancellara. The obvious question – how on earth does Team Sky plan on denying him a third Paris-Roubaix title?
“We’ve got to have numbers in front, haven’t we? Cancellara’s got to come up to us: we’ve got to be in front of him before he goes,” Stannard said, ruefully admitting that it would be easier said than done. “He was the favourite last Sunday and everyone knew what he was going to do but he rode everyone off his wheel.”
With so many pitfalls on the road to Roubaix, tactical schemes are never set in stone. After four participations in the Hell of the North, Stannard knows that the old truism holds water – the race begins at the Arenberg forest. “You have a basic plan and then take it as it comes after Arenberg forest,” he said. “We’ll see what numbers we have and see what happens then.”
Strength in numbers was the keyword at last week’s Tour of Flanders too, of course, but with Stannard one of several Sky riders suffering from illness, those plans went awry and the team’s best finisher was Edvald Boasson Hagen, in a lowly 17th place.
“I came down with a bit of a cold, I just wasn’t recovering from the little efforts and I ended up further and further back,” said Stannard. “I ended up walking up the Koppenberg which was quite soul-destroying. But we’re in better shape than last weekend: we’re all firing and ready to put a point across.”
Stannard made his Paris-Roubaix debut as a callow 20-year-old with Landbouwkrediet in 2008, but since being integrated into Sky’s culture of marginal gains in 2010, his stock has risen exponentially.
“I always believed that I could really perform in this race and it’s nice to be lining up this week with one of the strongest teams and looking to perform,” he said. “It’s a bit different to lining up with Landbouwkrediet on high pressure tyres and just taking your luck. We’ve been given everything we need to perform and it’s up to us now.”