Ian Stannard became the first rider from Milton Keynes to finish the world’s biggest and toughest race when helped Team Sky to Tour de France glory in Paris.
Not only was the 26-year-old fulfilling the lifelong dream of every pro rider by taking part in and finishing La Grande Boucle, but he had also played a key part in helping his team leader Chris Froome to his first Grand Tour win – Sky’s second successive triumph after Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the title in 2012.
For Stannard – usually known as a specialist in the one-day Classics – to finish an event as arduous as the Tour de France was a reflection on the hours and hours he and his team-mates had put into training in almost relentless, monastic fashion in Tenerife since they started planning their assault on the 2013 Tour back in November last year.
After the final rest day, Stannard started the final week’s racing knowing he had only six stages to go. But those final stages included some of the toughest racing from the whole race. Wednesday’s 32km mountain time trial was short but the profile included two significant climbs and was labelled ‘savage’ by Stannard beforehand.
It certainly proved so, but the thought of Froome’s win on the stage, his third in total, helped ease Stannard’s aching legs after he had done exactly what he’d planned to do before the stage started – get round, set a time, but make sure he was fresh to protect Froome in the following three Alpine stages.
Thursday’s ‘Double d’Huez Day’ proved to be as classic as the pundits had said it would be. Never before attempted in the Tour or any other race, the organisers ‘treated’ the riders to two climbs up Alpe d’Huez renown 21 hairpins and it was a day Stannard knew he’d have to be his sharpest at if he was to help Froome in any way.
And that is exactly what Stannard and his team-mates did. They repelled the efforts of their nearest challengers, the Spanish Movistar outfit, and Team Saxo-Tinkoff who were riding for former Tour winner Alberto Contador.
The first climb up the Alpe came after nearly 120kms of the 173km stage. As they hit the bottom of it, Stannard and Geraint Thomas powered along to seriously hurt the legs of Froome’s competitors.
After completing the first few hairpins, Stannard’s work may have been done for that stage, but he still had to haul his frame over the remaining kilometres to get to the finish so he could start the whole process over again on the next stage.
Saturday’s penultimate stage was ‘only’ 125km, but it was the third successive day in the Alps and with the riders almost now able to smell Paris it would have been easy to lose concentration.
Sky kept to their game plan though – their doing so still depended on the riders being fresh enough to keep turning their pedals. By now Sky were down to seven of their original nine-man line up, but again they hit the bottom of the final hors-cateogorie climb of the whole Tour with just 10.7kms to the finish, Stannard again linking with Thomas to cause Froome’s rivals the maximum discomfort and pain.
And so to the final 133kms from Versailles to a dusk finish in Paris, traditionally a parade stage until the riders hit the Champs-Elysees for the first time when the racing really kicks off.
For Team Sky and Froome it wouldn’t be a safe win until they’d crossed the finishing line and this they did – linked arm in arm – a minute after German racer Marcel Kittel had taken his first Parisian win.
Stannard said after: “This is great – the sun is setting, we have won the Tour de France, and we’ve got the yellow jersey so it’s pretty awesome.
“The Tour is massively stressful and I’m thankful it’s all over to be honest. I can kick back and enjoy it now a bit and I’m looking forward to doing that with my team-mates and a few beers.”
Out of the 169 riders who finished the race from 198 starters, Stannard finished in 135th place.
He is now looking forward to a well-earned break away from all the stress of not only the last three weeks, but also all the intense training and commitment that got him to the start of the race in Corsica at the end of June.