CYCLIST Ian Stannard completed his training for the London Olympics with a hard seven days racing at the Tour of Pologne, and in doing so played a key role in helping club-mate Ben Swift to a brace of sprint stage wins.
With Team Sky leading the way in the Tour de France, the eight-man line-up in Poland held their heads up high with Swift’s stage victories contributing to him winning the points jersey.
Stannard claimed an amazing sixth place finish overall in the mountains competition, and Sky also came away with the team event win.
The route for the more than 1200km race was almost tailor made to help the 25-year-old in his preparation for the Games, with stage two covering 240kms – just short of the Olympic Road Race distance – and a number of stages also featuring repeated hard climbs, similar to the drags he will face in London next Saturday.
Stage two saw Swift take his first stage win, but it was Stannard’s lead out in the closing kilometres – similar to the role he expects to play for Mark Cavendish on July 28 – that helped the team’s sprinter take his first win.
It was a run-in to the finish that was near perfect for classics rider Stannard, something Swift acknowledged after he crossed the finish line.
“It was unbelievable at the end,” said Swift, from Rotherham. “Flecha (Juan Antonio) did a hell of a lot of work to move us all into position around that circuit and then Ian just went for it - I think the cobbles excited him.”
In the difficult fifth and sixth stages, Stannard showed the amazing form he’s been enjoying over the past few weeks – form based on a hard year’s racing, and training that culminated in him recently winning the National Road Race Championships.
Indeed, the Polish race was his first opportunity to show off his brand new Champion’s jersey. Something he did with style.
In stage five – that finished at one of Poland’s ski resorts – Stannard was in a small break that had a lead of over a minute with less than 30kms to go. But he wasn’t put off by the mountainous terrain and used his strength to drag his body over the climbs to accumulate excellent points towards the mountains competition.
At one point Stannard had dropped his breakaway companions and built up a solo lead of around 30 seconds, and although he was slightly pulled back in the closing kilometres, he still had the strength to help Swift as he went on to hunt down his second stage win.
And Stannard wasn’t done just yet as he was part of the break on the 191km sixth stage that also saw him fight his way up over a number of hard climbs before helping to launch Columbian club-mate Sergio Henao into second place at the finish line.
Stannard will now take a few days to rest before he completes his training for the Olympics, that will hopefully see him play a crucial role in Team GB winning gold on the opening day of London 2012.