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Icy cold and wet conditions selected for the heartiest riders. Ian Stannard (Sky) topped Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) in a two-man sprint
British rider backs Froome to defend Tour crown
Having confirmed that he will miss Team Sky's defence of their Tour de France title, Ian Stannard has told Cyclingnews that he will focus on returning to full heath and fitness in the coming weeks and months. The British rider crashed in Gent-Wevelgem this spring and his injuries were misdiagnosed with further scans revealing more serious damage. Now fully aware of the extent of his health, the winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, is pain free but taking small and steady step ins his rehabilitation.
"I've been doing a lot of work. I was quite keen to be in that Tour team. I was on the turbo and doing a lot of core work to get my strength back in my back, we got another opinion and we found out that it was actually more broken than they thought," Stannard told Cyclingnews.
"It was actually a burst fracture rather than a compressed fracture. So it was quite a bit worse than we actually thought. It was massively disappointing, but what can you do? It was quite nice to have a clear decision that I couldn't ride and I just had to take my time to let it heal properly."
"I'm pain free, I haven't got any restrictions and I'm moving well on it. I haven't got any implications. It all feels fine. I think that the biggest problem if I go out on my bike, even if I slip on a bit of gravel and end up on my arse a little bit heavy, not even a massive fall, that I could do some pretty major damage. It's more from that side that I have to be careful. It's a bit frustrating, because I can't go out, I can't train, but it's one of those injuries that you've got to be mindful of. I think cyclists push through a lot of injuries to come back as quickly as possible, but I think that this is one that you've got to play by the doctor's book."
Back injuries can of course be difficult to treat but Stannard is confident that he can return to the level of form he showed at the start of the year, when he was arguably one of Team Sky's strongest riders in their Spring campaign.
"I'm not sure really. I feel fine, so I don't think getting back to the same level is going to be a problem. You don't know that for sure and it could have quite easily been a career-ending fracture. Possibly, if I don't do this next few weeks right, then it could be career ending, but I'm doing everything I can to do it right. At this moment, I don't see anything that could hold me back."
No Tour de France
Stannard was an important part of Team Sky's winning team in 2013. He was a rider designated to help Chris Froome on the flat roads but also played his part in the mountains too when Team Sky were under fire from the likes of Saxo Bank and Movistar. He rode into Paris with Froome in yellow, all in his debut Tour, capping an excellent July.
This year the Tour starts in Yorkshire, making it a huge goal for every British rider to make it onto the start list.
"The Tour last year was an absolutely amazing experience and to be part of the winning team too was awesome. I was really looking forward to this year and it was a matter of going through the motions and doing the right things to be in that Tour team. With it starting in Yorkshire as well, it's absolutely massive for a British rider and a British team. Going there as the defending champions, it's a huge thing to be part of and it's something that I really wanted to be part of. Obviously I won't be part of that, it's all been taken away, which is really hard. It makes it harder with it starting in the UK, because I really wanted to be part of that and that whole growth of cycling in the UK. At the end of the day, the length of my career is more important than one start in the Tour de France. I'm sure I will be there again next year."
Stannard isn't the only Team Sky rider who has been plagued by injury this year. The team have seen Richie Porte, Joe Dombrowski and Chris Froome in the wars. At some races the team has failed to even start with full rosters and their Tour de France line-up is hard to predict at this stage due to so many riders currently either coming back from injury or lacking form.
"It's obviously made things difficult and we've been a bit thin on the ground at times. I think that everyone is getting back to health now, which is good. We haven't had the greatest start to the year, but I think that things are slowly turning around with Froomey at Romandie and Brad winning California. It's great stuff. The Tour de France is really something that can really make a team and I'm sure the guys are really up for it and he's really keen to try and win it again. That all helps."
"At the end of the day, there are a lot of strong riders in the team. The best team for the job will go to the start line. The team will go there with the best team to give Froomey a chance to defend the Tour de France."
Froome recently returned from altitude training to win the Tour of Romandie, a race he won in 2013 during his rich streak of form that culminated in Tour glory. His next outing is likely to be to the Dauhpine in June, where he will lock horns with rivals Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali: the two riders expected to challenge for the maillot jaune in July.
As one would expect, Stannard is backing his teammate to defend his Tour de France title, which would be a first for any rider in almost ten years of competition.
"Yeah I believe he can and that's why I wanted to be there so much because I believe he can do it and I wanted to help him towards that. From my point of view it is disappointing not to be there to try and help him, but it will be exciting to watch him try and I hope he can do it."