WITH the sights and sounds of the Opening Ceremony still fresh in the minds, Team GB’s men’s road race team will be gunning for Olympic gold on Saturday – and Ian Stannard is relishing the chance to get his country off to a dream start.
The 25-year-old is part of a five-man squad that includes Britain’s first ever winner of the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins, current road race world champion Mark Cavendish, and Wiggins’ number two on the Tour, Chris Froome. Scot Dave Millar completes the line-up.
With those four having all won individual stages in France, and Stannard recently winning the British Road Race Championships, the Team GB line-up is filled top-to-tail with in-form riders.
The Olympic Road Race starts and finishes on The Mall, but will cover more than 250kms while taking the riders past many of London’s other iconic landmarks as it works its way to the Surrey Hills and – what all commentators and pundits have identified as the main feature of the race – nine laps of a 15.5km circuit around Box Hill.
Box Hill is likely to be the point that medals will be won or lost, and Stannard recognises that his job will be to help guide and lead Cavendish over each of those laps and back to London for a hoped gold medal salute.
For Stannard, participation at the Games is just part of a remarkable cycling journey – a stepping stone to even bigger challenges, that he hopes will one day lead to him taking the winner’s honours rather than playing the support role that he is so often asked to perform racing for both Team Sky and Team GB. But for now he’s just delighted to be involved at the Games.
“As a racing cyclist, competing in the World Championships is arguably a bigger stage in a rider’s career,” he said. “But for sports fans in general I accept that the Olympic Games is much bigger, and that I’ve now got a chance to take part in such an event is really special for me.
“It would have been great to say you had stayed in the Village, but with our pro team commitments, with training and other season goals to take into account, it simply won’t be possible. It’s quite likely that I’ll go home straight after the race, but if I can get to any other events then I’ll do so.”
After tackling some triathlons, Stannard started his racing career at the National Bowl. He caught the eye of local businessman Bob Varney who was setting up a youth racing team, and acknowledged that he was a key influence in his early career.
Stannard moved on to British Cycling’s Olympic Development Academy programme, and soon won gold on the track in the 2006 European U23 Team Pursuit, before – after tasting life as a pro rider as a stagiaire with T-Mobile – turning professional in 2008 with a club in Belgium.
Before turning pro, Stannard dreamt of riding the hard, cobbled Classics of Northern Europe and his Belgian employers put his powerful frame to immediate good use in such races.
Then after a second pro year riding for an Italian club – where Stannard enjoyed his first experience of riding a three-week Grand Tour – he joined Team Sky in 2010 and has never looked back.
And 2012 has seen him fulfil the promise he showed as a younger rider, and that attracted the attention of the team bosses at Sky, giving him a confidence shown in the National Championships four weeks ago where he rode at the front from the first lap and soloed away to win on his own from part way through the penultimate lap, leading him perfectly into his Olympic adventure.
“In many ways it will be just another race. I know important medals will be at stake but I’ll be given a job and that’s what I’ll have to do,” said Stannard.
“The crowds will be different though, and I know the atmosphere will be very special. It’s going to be a great occasion.”