Saturday, 1 March 2014

Ian Stannard at Het Nieuwsblad - Tougher than the rest

For most of the year Ian Stannard's job at team Sky will involve pounding out a tempo at the  front of the bunch chasing down breakaways or controlling attacks in the service of his leaders, Froome, Porte and Wiggins. Or he will put his massive diesel engine in the service of a sprinter as part of his lead out train. It's a role that means he seldom gets to enjoy the warm glow of victory just for himself. But for Stannard, and riders like him, for a few weeks each spring on the cobbles of Belgium and France they get their chance. Today at Het Nieuwsblad Ian took his chance, in the final 15kms working with BMC's Greg Van Avermaet he ground out a 15 second gap over the chasing group. Both men working together until they were certain it was a straight fight between them. Stannard took the initiative with a long sprint holding on to take the prize. Both men giving it everything.

The real heavy hitters, the likes of Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara will have had their eyes on the bigger prizes to come, Ghent- Wevelgem and the true classics, Ronde Van Vlandaaren and Paris Roubaix. But Het Nieuwsblad is the traditional opener to this season within a season, and has a proud history all of its own. It is a fine result that Sky, who in truth have never done themselves justice in the Spring Classics, will be delighted by.

The Sky team tactics were spot on in the last 20km. With Stannard up the road Edvald Boasson-Hagen was able to sit in with the chasing group of three. Saving his legs for the sprint he would have had the edge should Stannard and Van Avermaet be caught. In the end he proved the point in taking a three up sprint, but he was racing for third place. Stannard had been able to finish the job on his own.

The tired dirty faces looking out through the rain, beneath a sky as grey as the  jarring cobbles under their wheels tell the story of a tough race. There will be plenty of days later in the year when Stannard will get to feel the sun on his back, but today the fire was inside.