Ian Stannard says the Spring Classics will remain a central focus of his professional career as he works towards his ultimate goal of one day winning Paris-Roubaix.
Stannard, 22, survived atrocious conditions to finish third at last month's Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. It was the first Belgian podium result of his professional career and he told Cyclingnews the achievement has only fuelled his passion for northern Europe's one-day monuments.
"Kuurne was a big step for me and the direction I want to be going," said Stannard, at his team's hotel in Kortrijk, Belgium. "I'm only 22 and I've got a lot to learn. I've got guys like my sports director Scott Sunderland, [Juan Antonio] Flecha, Mat Hayman and Kurt [Asle Arvesen] on the team and you learn a lot from them. I'm just trying to take all the advice and watch how these guys ride.
"I'm slowly getting more strength and being in a better organised team you're learning and learning, " he added. "Hopefully in a few years I can put it to my advantage."
Stannard was speaking after what he described as a "tough day" at Dwars door Vlaanderen. The Briton finished 94th, in the midst of a peloton that finished more than four minutes down on race winner Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank). Despite being disappointed with his relatively lowly result, Stannard was positive about the lessons learnt.
"Once we hit the Knokteberg I went backwards there and lost a couple of positions. I recovered a bit, which is a good sign. I'm disappointed I couldn't do more, but that's bike racing," he said.
"It's to be expected really. I did a little bit too much [early], then I was stressing about the climbs and I did a little too much in the wind there. But I know what I did wrong and I know what to do for next time; it's all a learning process at the moment."
The acceleration of Stannard's Classics education owes a lot to his position on the Sky roster. Respective seasons with Landbouwkrediet - Tönissteiner (2008) and ISD-Neri (2009) gave him a taste of the races that have grown closest to his heart, but it was this season's leap into the ProTour ranks that seen the most progress made.
"We didn't race much in Belgium when I was with ISD, we only did Het [Nieuwsblad] and Kuurne, and the Italians didn't really like it, so that was that," he said. "You've got your Saxo Banks and Quick Steps that always do well in these races, and you've got to keep an eye on them, but it's nice to be part of a team that's up there and also being looked at.
"I've known my race programme since October, which has made a phenomenal difference through the winter. Just knowing what's going to be coming up and what to expect has really helped my head through the off season. I haven't been lost and I've had stuff to aim for; that's made a massive difference to me."
Stannard will race E3 Prijs Vlaanderen on Saturday, before turning his attention to the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. He will skip the Ardennes portion of the Classics in order to prepare for the Giro d'Italia. Although excited about his second appearance at the Grand Tour, Stannard is quick to answer when asked which race he dreams of winning.
"Paris-Roubaix. I always remember watching it when I was younger – guys in the rain and covered in mud. It was just something that really appealed to me," he said, explaining the genesis of his passion for the pavé. "I came to Belgium quite a bit when I was a junior and I just love the racing here. I love racing in other countries, but there's something special about Flanders; it's in their hearts, and the racing is just brilliant."
Stannard ready for national service
While Ian Stannard remains focused on his professional objectives for Sky, he indicated to Cyclingnews that the 2010 World road race Championships in Geelong, Australia have begun to occupy his thoughts.
"[After the Giro] I've got the Eneco Tour and then the nationals, so I'm looking forward to that. Then, we've obviously got [Mark Cavendish] for the Worlds. It'd be nice to be in good condition there and do a good job for him.
"The [British] riders have been talking about it and we all know Cav can be up there and he's got the potential to win there. It would be nice to be part of that team and we're all talking about it."