Stannard saddles up for the home straight

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After enjoying the second rest day of the Tour de France on Monday, Ian Stannard can look forward to the prospect of helping his team leader to the winner’s yellow jersey in Paris.

“I’ve ridden the Giro in Italy and the Vuelta in Spain, but The Tour just seems to have so much going on around you all the time. It just seems to get bigger every day,” he said.

Last week’s key stages were supposed to be Wednesday’s individual time trial and the longest stage, Sunday’s 242km marathon to the top of Mont Ventoux.

And although the fireworks were flying on both of those days, Friday’s expected ‘sprinter’s’ stage – won convincingly by Britain’s Mark Cavendish – will be more remembered for the winds that rocked Sky’s plans than for the Manxman’s second stage win in this year’s Tour.

In the 33km time trial, Stannard did exactly what he knew he had to do – get round expending as little energy as possible so he could remain fresh for his domestique duties for the rest of the week.

That he had been fulfilling his role to the letter was acknowledged by team leader Chris Froome after one of the week’s stages when Stannard had acted as Froome’s pilot fish negotiating the final hectic kilometres, after which Froome said: “Ian Stannard was an absolute bear in those conditions and he kept me out of trouble.”

In the time trial, Froome extended his overall lead to 3mins 25secs and some commentators thought that the race to Paris was probably over. But Friday’s flat stage proved that the race won’t be won until the finishing line in the French capital.

Running diagonally south easterly across France, the 173km stage was relatively flat but the strong winds blowing directly across the peloton blew the race into pieces after 60kms as the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team of Cavendish jumped hard on their pedals and forced huge holes in the stretched out bunch.

Sky were part of that front group, but with just 31kms to go, the team of Froome’s main rival Alberto Contador copied Quick Step’s tactics and quickly separated themselves from Stannard and Froome’s group.

“We lost just over a minute which was disappointing,” explained Stannard. “But we had a big gap on Contador going into the stage and we’ve still got a good gap going into the Alps so we’re still confident.”

That gap remained at 2mins 28secs going into Sunday’s stage, and with Sky’s defences having apparently been broken in Friday’s winds, again many thought that this year Sky may not be the outright winners of Le Tour.

But, in fact, exactly the reverse proved to be the case. Froome attacked off the back of the work Stannard and the remaining Sky riders had put in getting to the bottom of the Ventoux, and with less than 8kms to go, attacked Contador and then stage leader Nairo Quintana to take the win and open his lead going into the final six stages to 4mins 14secs.

“The real problem with that stage was the length and heat,” Stannard said. “Really, Europcar and Movistar did all the hard work. Movistar set an incredible pace at the front for Quintana but we sat in behind them at let them work away.

“On the road the temperature hit over 37 degrees, that was one of the hardest things to deal with. But when we got to the front we did what we planned. That was great.”

For the remaining stages Stannard has again broken things down into manageable pieces so he can keep Paris and the end in view.

“This last week is going to be really hard,” he said. “The hilly time trial on Wednesday may only be 32kms but it goes up from the very start and you’ve got two big climbs to deal with. It’ll be savage, definitely be a TT for a road bike.

“Then Thursday we’ve got two climbs of Alpe d’Huez, on Friday straight from the off we climb the Glandon and the 125kms around Annecy on Saturday is pretty much up and down all day. And as that stage is quite short you can expect it to be fast. The last week is going to be really tough.

“We knew that from the start. But we’re still all focussing on getting Froomy into Paris in yellow. Then I can start to plan for a really well earned holiday.”