If Ian Stannard wants two things for his 2019 season, it’s a bit more luck than in 2018, a lot more consistency, and “trying not to puncture.” If all those factors come good, then the Team Sky rider could well be on track for some more top results in the Classics.
A former double winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Stannard’s Paris-Roubaix rides in the last two years – a race in which he has taken a podium finish, back in 2016 when he also notched up a third place in E3 Harelbeke – have been blighted by punctures.
But on the plus side for 2019, the 31-year-old is already feeling in good shape, he tells Cyclingnews at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, and on track for the Het Nieuwsblad. He won this race in 2014, too, ahead of Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), and in 2015, ahead of Niki Terpstra (Direct Énergie) - neither of whom are what you’d call low-profile classics racers.
Stannard subsequently had two uneven years in the 2017 and 2018 Spring Classics, though, so he is taking things, “race by race. After Het Niuewsblad, I’ll see what I do.
“I’m not really sure what the [Sky] team is for Nieuwsblad, Dylan [Van Baarle] and Luke [Rowe] will be there, I’m not sure about Gianni [Moscon]. Either way, we’re going to have a good team.
“It’s always good to start well, everybody wants to go there and race to win, so that’s the plan. The Nieuwsblad route has changed a little but it’s still hard racing at the end of the day.”
Stannard’s goals, he says, are “some good Classics, like every year. The last two years have been pretty disappointing, so I want to up my game there, and be a lot more consistent in all of them.”
Asked to identify what might have been the problem with his Spring Classics campaign in 2017 and 2018, Stannard says, “ I think training’s gone well, I’ve had little bit of bad luck in them, and you’re on the back foot there, you’re kind of gone.
“I had some pretty untimely punctures in Roubaix last two years as well, so I’ll try not to puncture this year.”
His condition, at any rate, gives him room to be optimistic and he also went into the off-season having secured an impressive solo late stage win in terrible weather conditions in the Tour of Britain, a victory which helped him put what was a difficult 2018 behind him.
“It’s always hard to tell, the level of racing is pretty high here this year, but it’s nice to start racing, get a bit of speed in the legs. You don’t have this kind of climate at home, either, so it’s good to get on the climbs and work a bit there, too.
“Compared to last year at this time, think I’m ahead. I’m feeling good on the bike, climbing pretty well, which is always a good sign for myself.”
“I’m looking forward to getting to Algarve and the Opening Weekend and then moving on from there, testing my condition in a one-day situation.”
Whilst his program beyond the end of February is not yet clear - “a lot will depend on how I go in the Opening Weekend” - he is not too troubled, he says, about the longer term questions, like the future of Team Sky.
“Everybody is pretty relaxed, with a really good backroom staff to find sponsors, and with the calibre of riders, you’d hope Dave can find something pretty good,” he reasons.
Stannard’s own initial objectives for 2019, in any case, are looming even faster on the horizon than whatever is in store for Sky sponsor-wise. For now, any thoughts about the rest of the year can wait - at least until March 3rd.