Pro cyclist interview: Ian Stannard on Paris-Roubaix, disc brakes and supporting Chris Froome at the Tour de France - Road Cycling UK

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Pro cyclist interview: Ian Stannard on Paris-Roubaix, disc brakes and supporting Chris Froome at the Tour de France

Team Sky man talks to RCUK after finishing on the podium at the Hell of the North

There are few surer signs of spring than Team Sky’s Ian Stannard smashing across the cobbled roads of Belgium and Northern France.

Last Sunday, he finished third at Paris-Roubaix, equaling the best British performance at the Hell of the North, but this was no isolated performance.

Twice Stannard has won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad semi-Classic, the second time outwitting the mighty Etixx-QuickStep to win alone from a four-man break by overturning odds of 3-1 against.

So how does he feel, having come so close to winning a Monument Classic? A podium at Roubaix is some achievement, but there is no cobblestone trophy given for third place, with former team-mate Mathew Hayman instead walking away with the top prize.

Ian Stannard finished third at Paris-Roubaix behind former team-mate Mathew Hayman and Tom Boonen (Pic: Sirotti)

“It’s the toughest one-day race out there, so I’m happy to be on the podium, but to be honest, you want to win it. You’re not racing for second or third,” he says.

“But I’ve got no regrets. I raced how I raced. I didn’t want to come into the velodrome with [Tom] Boonen and Edvald [Boasson Hagen] to sprint against.”

Disc dilemmas

Stannard certainly has more to celebrate than Fran Ventoso.

The Movistar rider was badly injured during Paris-Roubaix, which he claims was a result of falling on a disc brake in crash with a rider from Direct Energie.

Ventoso published an open letter on his Facebook page, calling for the technology to be removed from the peloton before another rider is injured, perhaps more seriously even than he was. The UCI suspended disc brake trials in professional racing the next day.

Stannard says that in the light of Ventoso’s injuries, the whole issue needs to be looked at.

“At the end of day, pro cycling is dangerous enough as it is, and we don’t need guys falling on discs. It sounds like a nasty injury”

“Before I read those comments, I was quite in favour,” says the former British national champion. “Obviously, they’ve proved to be quite dangerous. It’s not something we want to see.

“Before this weekend I’d have said they have a place [in the peloton]. The performance is much better, especially in the wet, but at the end of day, pro cycling is dangerous enough as it is, and we don’t need guys falling on discs. It sounds like a nasty injury.”

Team Sky tested disc brakes last year, he continues, but the team hadn’t considered using them for the Northern Classics.

“It was something we were looking at for later in the season, rather than for the Classics, where there aren’t any extreme descents. On the cobbles, the bikes slow themselves pretty quickly,” Stannard adds.

Ian Stannard, Team Sky (Pic: Sirotti)

Rouleur

With a build closer to that of a nightclub doorman than a professional cyclist, Stannard seems at first glance a poor fit for a team built on the scientific ‘aggregation of marginal gains’.

Surely he is a throwback to a different era? A rider who would have dug in alongside De Vlaeminck or Kelly?

Stannard chuckles. “I’m quite into the performance side,” he says, almost apologetically. “I don’t know about the whole ‘marginal gains’ thing, but I like my equipment to be right.

“I train with my power meter and I get bloody frustrated when it doesn’t work properly. But in the Classics, you can’t sit back and think, ‘I’ll follow my zones.’ It’s a one-day race and it’s played out in one day. When the big guys go, it’s all in and you’ve got to go with them.”

Sky have been accused of riding to numbers in the Grand Tours and suffocating the race, but there can be no such criticism of their performances in the Spring Classics.

The team defended its title at E3-Harelbeke, with a canny sprint victory for 2014 world champion Michal Kwiatkowski at the expense of the current holder of the rainbow jersey, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), while Ben Swift set the tone for Stannard’s Monument podium by finishing second at Milan-San Remo.

– Pro cyclist interview: Ben Swift on Milan-San Remo, near-misses and his Team Sky future –

A successful spring campaign for Sky has been “a long time coming” Stannard concedes, but he believes experience is starting to tell.

“People are piecing together the races,” he says. “They know what their job is; know where they need to be. At Flanders, E3, and at Roubaix especially, you saw guys at the front, taking the wind.”

Sky certainly raced as a unit at Roubaix, in a superb race which barely saw a lull in the action from the roll out in Compiègne.

Stannard is twice a winner of the Omloop Het Niuewsblad semi-Classic, but chose not to defend his title this year (Pic: Sirotti)

Despite fears (or hopes) of a wet race, conditions were hot and often dusty, but Stannard says there were sufficient portions of mud from earlier rain to make certain sections treacherous.

“It almost made it more tricky,” he says of the mixed conditions. “We heard over the radio that the early sections were going to be slippery. We wanted to be at the front, which was why we were quite active early on. You’ve got to be careful and watch your speed.”

One thing is certain, Stannard will not be posted to the hilly Ardennes Classics. Having defended Sky’s title at E3, Kwiatkowski will seek to retain his own crown at the the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday (April 17).

Rouleurs like Stannard will be in the minority, as the climbers come down from the mountains. And Sky has more than its fair share of grimpeurs.

“I’ve never done them,” Stannard says of the Ardennes Classics, laughing. “And I don’t intend to. They’re miles from my style of racing.”

Grand days out

Stannard will take a short break from racing, though he suspects his plans to “sit around the house not doing an awful lot” will be interrupted by “charging around” after his one-year-old daughter.

After that, he will head to a training camp in Tenerife, and from there to the Critérium du Dauphiné, the final warm-up for the Tour de France.

Say the name Stannard and most cycling fans will picture the Spring Classics, but he has quietly racked up seven Grand Tours in his ten-year pro career.

Stannard has raced two Tours de France in service of Chris Froome, both victorious, sharing in the victory of his long-term team-mate in Paris.

Stannard (left) has racked up seven Grand Tour appearances, including two in support of a victorious Chris Froome at the Tour de France (Pic: Sirotti)

“The Classics are more for me,” Stannard says of his dual role within Team Sky.

“They are the races where I want to perform, and where I can race for myself. You go to the stage races, especially the  Grand Tours, and it’s all about riding for the team: for Froomey or G [Geraint Thomas].

“The Classics are more for me. They are the races where I want to perform, and where I can race for myself”

“It’s something I quite enjoy doing. It’s nice to have the reward of defending the jersey to Paris. It’s quite a cool feeling to do that.

“The Classics give you a great skill set to help out in the Grand Tours: watching where the wind is, how the bunch is forming; those kind of things.”

Brit pack

Froome, like Stannard, has been with Sky since the team’s inception in 2010. So too, for that matter, have Thomas, Swift and Peter Kennaugh.

Sky’s success has been driven by a core of British riders, though this is a fact Stannard says he had not previously considered.

Instead, he has focused on the process of winning races, but says he is happy if Sky’s success has inspired riders from the home nations. He knows what a powerful incentive it can be.

“The year G [Thomas] and I did the junior Paris-Roubaix, I remember watching Magnus Backstedt and Roger Hammond coming in to the velodrome. That was pretty inspirational,” he says, reflecting on the 2004 edition of the race.

“A couple of years later we rode the Tour of Britain and he [Hammond] was riding for Discovery. It was pretty awesome to get advice from him.”

Stannard rode for ISD in 2009 before joining Sky at the team’s inception (Pic: Sirotti)

Stannard has now equalled Hammond’s success at Roubaix, but it is a mark of the expectation that now accompanies British riders that Stannard’s third place has been viewed in certain corners as an opportunity missed.

“We go to win and to be on the podium,” Stannard says of the new standards for British pros.

“A lot of teams want British riders to be part of their teams. We’re committed and clean riders, and that means a lot”

“A lot of teams have faith in British riders. A lot of teams want British riders to be part of their teams. We’re committed and clean riders, and that means a lot.”

He hopes the success of his generation will inspire the next. With 21-year-old Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural) finishing in the top ten at the Volta a Catalunya, Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) winning the GP Denain, and Jon Dibben finishing second at the U23 Tour of Flanders, it could be argued that the succession has already begun.

Ian Stannard, Team Sky, salute, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, 2015, pic - Sirotti

The road to Rio…and Qatar?

Stannard readily admits that he will not spearhead the British challenge in Rio, where Chris Froome will be favoured to lead the team on a hilly course for the men’s road race.

Neither has he thought ahead to the World Championships in Qatar, which this year will be held in October, but hopes to play a supporting role there too, this time to Mark Cavendish.

“I’d want to be there and I’d want to help out Cav. I was part of the last British team that won the worlds [in Copenhagen, 2011]. It was amazing to be there and ride for a guy like Mark.”

A pan-flat course will suit a speed merchant like Cavendish, especially if he hitches a ride on the Stannard Express, a diesel as well equipped to smash through desert crosswinds as cobbles.

All this, however, is too far ahead for Stannard to focus on now. With another successful spring behind him, he will recoup and build towards his “second” role as Froome’s Tour de France bodyguard.

The Classics warrior is about to undergo his annual transformation. Froome will be as appreciative as the crowds in the Roubaix velodrome.

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