Ian Stannard (Team Sky) made history with his ride to third place at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, but he still couldn’t escape the disappointment of coming so close to victory in the race he has dreamed of since childhood.
The 28-year-old, beaten by Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge) and Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) in the select group sprint, equaled the best-ever performance by a British rider at the Hell of the North, following in the footsteps of Barry Hoban in 1972 and Roger Hammond in 2004. He also equalled Team Sky's best-ever finish at the race, following on from Juan Antonio Flecha in the team's debut season six years ago.
“I’m pleased to finish on the podium, but it’s so close yet so far I guess,” said Stannard, who pondered how things might have played out had he saved his legs for a sprint rather than attacking in the final stages.
“Everyone was getting stuck in – certainly myself, I didn’t want to come into a sprint with [Tom] Boonen and Edvald [Boasson Hagen]. In hindsight it might have been better to save my legs, and it might have been a different result…”
Stannard said earlier in the week that a wet race would suit him well, and some of the pavé sectors were still damp from the overnight rain. Stannard also likes a hard race, and he certainly got it as a crash on sector 21 triggered decisive splits in the bunch with 115km still to race.
With Etixx-QuickStep having pushed on, for a while reducing the front group to five, Sky had four men in the lead while favourites were caught out behind, and they looked in a commanding position as they took it up on sector 11.
“We were ahead of it [the crash], team did a great job on position, me and Luke weren’t out of top five coming into each sector. I didn’t see or hear the crash, we came off the sector and there were about 25 guys left, so it made it a good situation for us I guess.”
But then Gianni Moscon hit the deck as he rounded a bend, taking out Luke Rowe temporarily. Just moments later, Salvatore Puccio also misjudged a left-hander and was out of the equation. Though Rowe came back, he had clearly been hampered by the incident, and it can’t be known how things would have played out had Sky carried their numerical advantage further into the race.
“It was slippy out there, with the rain yesterday, sunshine today and it kept catching a lot of people out. We had four guys but then the others crashed so, there we are, that’s bike racing…” said Stannard.
When Rowe came back he knew Stannard was the team’s best chance of success, and he committed to his teammate, driving the pace for as long as he could before leaving it in Stannard’s hands with the final select group of five.
“Before the Carrefour [de l’Arbre] Luke said he was pretty tired, he knew there were some crosswinds coming up so he just committed, really put it in the gutter, then in he tailwind section he put the hammer down a bit," explained Stannard.
“There were five of us left, then Sep [Vanmarcke] went. It got tough then, some hard racing. I felt pretty good when we were chasing him so I kind of wanted to attack in the final – I didn’t want to come into velodrome with guys with sprinting pedigree like Boonen and Edvald so I tried to attack and get away myself – it’s where I’m better if you like.
“The final was pretty nervous, tough racing, no one really had the legs left."
Stannard attacked twice in a final 10km that saw shots being fired left right and centre. As it was, his efforts saw him dropped on the approach to the velodrome along with Boasson Hagen, but they got back on as the leaders began to look at each other for the sprint. The Brit used his momentum to take speed into the sprint and managed to pip both Vanmarcke and Boasson Hagen to the line, while Hayman created an upset of his own by outpacing Boonen.
“It shows what a hard race it was, the guys you’d expect to sprint a lot faster had nothing left,” said Stannard, who was magnanimous in defeat to his former Sky teammate.
“Mat’s a great friend and I’m super happy to see him win. For him to be outsprinting Boonen is pretty impressive. He’s an ex-teammate, I’ve seen everything he’s done and put in for everyone else, it’s nice to see him get a result.”
For Stannard himself, this is probably the standout result of his career so far. He has twice won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but this year he took a different approach to the spring in order to make a step forward in the bigger races, and, though a podium finish always brings mixed emotions, there is plenty to be optimistic about for the years to come.
“I’ve always had ambitions for this race ever since I first watched it on TV,” he said. “It’s nice to get on the podium, but two more steps to work my way up now.”
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