Double Stannards

Standing in the middle of a media scrum after Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a noticeably aggrieved Patrick Lefevere, manager of Etixx-Quick Step, complained that the day’s winner, Ian Stannard (Sky), had sat in the race’s “box seat” for over 30km – the implication being that Stannard only enjoyed the show, and hadn’t played a starring role. Lefevere’s lament doesn’t do justice to the Essex boy’s shrewd racing and raw power – nor does it acknowledge that even if Stannard had the box seat, it was Lefevere’s riders who booked his tickets, showed him to that seat, and all but paid his bar tab, too.

Stannard spent most the final 30km with three Etixx-Quick Step companions – Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra, and Stijn Vandenbergh. Between them, these three have won five editions of Paris-Roubaix, three of Dwars Door Vlaanderen, three Tours of Flanders, and no small number of Grand Tour stages and sprinter’s jerseys. As they traded turns, towing the remarkably relaxed Brit, the only question seemed to be which of them would grace the podium’s top step, and by how much of an advantage.

Sky’s captain had other ideas. His team had controlled the front of the peloton for most of the morning, eventually sending Luke Rowe up to the break once Wiggins and Eisel had both put in full shifts. The race then went into its usual phase of disorder and tumult, with groups separating and reforming every couple of kilometres. Eventually, Stannard followed the right wheels and matched accelerations until only he and the trio of Etixx riders were at the head of affairs.

The front group were kept honest by Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto-NLJumbo) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), who held the leaders within spitting distance for hours, with the ever-dangerous Zdeněk Štybar (Etixx-Quick Step) riding caboose. With this threat looming over their shoulders for so long, Boonen had to wait until the last 5km before making his bid for the win.

As Boonen launched himself up the right-hand side of the road, Stannard could be seen calmly moving through his gears, gradually increasing his pace and reeling the Belgian back in. Before regaining contact with Boonen’s wheel, Stannard started watching for the inevitable counter attack.

The counter came from Niki Terpstra, winner of last year’s Roubaix, and perhaps accidentally brought along team-mate Stijn Vanderbergh for the ride. Maybe Stijn had confused Stannard’s minor grimace for an indication of real suffering – if so, he’ll now know that this grimace is a semi-permanent fixture of Stannard’s face from February until early May, only making way for a smile during victory salutes.

Once again, Stannard worked through his gears, almost dropping Boonen in the process. Not wanting to wait for the next slug, Stannard took it on himself to make the next attack, benefitting from Terpstra’s immediate need for recovery and Boonen’s minor troubles with the pace. With 2.5km, Stannard and Terpstra were suddenly alone and in the lead.

After 30km in that box seat, Stannard had to work hard to keep his chasers at bay – now it was Terpstra’s chance to enjoy that box seat. The pair entered the final 500m side-by-side.

Neither is known for their sharp accelerations, but both make up for it with phenomenal top speeds. Their ‘sprint’ lasted a staggering 320m, and it was Stannard who came out on top, forcing a huge gear and sticking himself between Terpstra and the barriers even as Tersprta tried to unceremoniously close that gap by driving him across the width of the road.

Stannard won Omloop last year in similar fashion – a wholesome and old-fashion display of race-craft and power that reaffirms Stannard’s potential for Paris-Roubaix, and also the squad’s ability to deliver protected riders into the thick of it.

For many, the Omloop signals the ‘real’ start of the European road season, and winning it marks a rider out for special attention in the following, more renowned races. Winning here, as with all of Northern Europe’s early season races, is as much a test of guile and luck as it is of form and fitness. Stannard, known as Yogi to his team-mates, showed that last year’s back surgery hasn’t weakened him in the slightest, and he’s capable of out-smarting and out-fighting anyone in the peloton.

Ian Stannard’s Classic Kit

Stannard wore: