CYCLIST Ian Stannard temporarily put his professional Team Sky racing colours to one side to compete for Great Britain in Sunday’s Elite World Road Race Championships.
With his Classics background, Stannard was used to the 260km plus distance of the race in the Netherlands, and used his strength and experience as he worked for Team GB’s nominated leader, the recent Tour of Britain winner, Jonathan Tiernan Locke.
After the usual tally of attacks and counter attacks that always feature in the World’s race had been brought back, part way around the penultimate lap American Andrew Talansky attacked on a short climb and Stannard immediately shot out of the bunch to cover the effort. And for a while it looked suspiciously like the pair would race away to contest between them the battle for cycling’s coveted rainbow jersey.
Despite being pulled back with the final lap to go, Stannard still had enough in the tank to police Tiernan-Locke as the final kilometres clicked by, and as the peloton dived into the base of the Cauberg climb for the final time, Stannard was clearly seen at the front of the bunch, constantly looking over his shoulder for his team-mate to usher him into an attacking position.
In his first ever World Championships and his first race at such a distance, Tiernan Locke had exceeded expectations by staying at the front of the race and in touch with Stannard.
And as Stannard pulled over with less than 2kms to go with his job for the day done, Tiernan Locke dug in deep in the drag to the finishing line but just drifted off the front to finish in 19th place, just five seconds behind the winner, Belgian favourite Philippe Gilbert. Stannard came home in 36th place.
“I knew it’d be hard for the last two climbs of the Cauberg and so when Talansky went up the road I knew that if I got up to him we’d be able to work together to see what sort of distance we could put in the bunch,” said Stannard.
“And if we built up a lead of around 30 seconds then we’d have everything to play for. We were pulled back but at least that meant I was still up there to work for Tiernan Locke if he still had the legs. And he did. He put in a really good ride.
“Racing in the World’s is always great. I love wearing my National Road Race champion’s jersey but wearing your national kit in an event like the World’s, that’s really something.”
Stannard’s Team GB and Team Sky team-mate Chris Froome recognised the amount of work Stannard had put in during the race, saying: “He did the ride of his life. For a big boy like him to get round a course like this – that’s really impressive.”
The eight days of racing in the Netherlands also saw Stannard take part in the Team Time Trial. It was the first time the sport’s governing body, the UCI, had organised an Elite Team Time Trial with World Championship status, but 32 of cycling’s top professional outfits took up the 53.2km challenge and the spectacle did not disappoint.
With each team’s recorded time being set by the fourth man to cross the line, it was essential for each team to finish with at least that number out of their starting line-up of six riders. And after Sky had lost Olympic Team Pursuit gold medallist Geraint Thomas and Columbian Sergio Henao, Stannard knew he had to hold his place to give the team a medal chance.
On the day, despite the long turns taken by the local powerhouse, it wasn’t to be Sky’s title and they finished in 9th place overall with a time of 1hr 4mins 49secs. But the finishing quartet took some solace from their climbing up the final placings in the final 20kms, even though this included the toughest part of the course.
“It was a disappointing result really. We lost two of our riders quite early on and so it was always going to be difficult to get a result after that,” explained Stannard.