Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Ian Stannard believes that Team Sky are on the cusp of claiming their first spring Monument with Geraint Thomas, Bradley Wiggins and himself all vying for what would be a landmark win for the British squad.
Stannard crashed out of contention in last weekend’s Milan-San Remo but the squad were active throughout key sections of the race with Thomas, Luke Rowe and Ben Swift all featuring. Despite missing out on a top-ten result, the team are in buoyant mood after Stannard’s memorable defence of his Omloop Het Nieuwsblad crown last month.
“That win is in our grasp and it’s realistic. They’re hard races and they’re solid races, you need some luck but we have a few guys capable now,” he told Cyclingnews when we sat down with him the night before E3 Harelbeke.
“I felt good in Milan-San Remo and was just a little unlucky with the slippery roads. I wanted to be there to help the team and get what I wanted out of the race. I don’t really feel like I raced but I had good sensations so I’m confident for E3 and the rest of the Classics. I managed to stay upright and, apart from a bruise from hitting the barrier, I was fine.”
Having had time to regroup and refocus after Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Stannard has built up his base with Tirreno-Adriatico providing a week of intense racing. It has put him ahead of where he was when he singlehandedly took about Etixx-QuickStep’s challenge in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but for E3 and Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem he may ride in a support role for Thomas. The Welshman is set to lead the team in E3 and Flanders, while Stannard has marked Paris-Roubaix as the race that suits him the best and along with Bradley Wiggins he will ride as a supported leader.
“I’m ahead of where I was then. I’ve done Tirreno and I’ve trained hard. I’m in a good place and I’m mindful that there’s a long way to go and it’s where Roubaix where I really want to perform. I’m still training through this period but I’m hoping it all comes out in the next few weeks. I just want to do my job as well as possible.”
“Roubaix is the one that suits me and my characteristics as a rider. Maybe the old Flanders course was good for me but now three times up the Paterberg and Kwaremont is a little too heavy for me,” he told Cyclingnews.
Team Sky’s development has a Classics team has been far from seamless with phases of transitions and, at times, regression part and parcel of the ultimate growth. When the team stepped onto the stage in 2010 for their debut season they relied on the skills of Juan Antonio Flecha and Mathew Hayman to lead, with Stannard and Thomas cast in support roles.
“We had Flecha and he had third in Roubaix in our first year and he was our standout guy. Then you had Hayman and he had all his experience. Then there was the rest of us trying to support them but there’s so much learning needed with regards to positioning and strength and that’s only really starting to come through now for the rest of us. In those first years you’re almost riding around aimlessly and chasing people, partly because you don’t have the strength and you don’t know the roads. “
This season Stannard and Thomas find themselves centre stage with Rowe a suitable understudy.
“It’s a really good group and we’ve really grown up together and learnt how to take on these races together. I think Luke Rowe has really stepped up this year and that’s had a big impact on the team because it’s given us one more guy in the final.”
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