Ian Stannard added to his growing reputation as one of Britain’s most consistent riders in the Classics when he finished in sixth place at the end of Sunday’s arduous, rain and snow affected Milan – San Remo.
The usually 298km race had a nearly 50km segment cut off the distance when snow made one of the key points of the race, the Passo del Turchino, too treacherous for the riders to climb and then descend.
After nearly 120kms, with a group of six riders some seven minutes in front, the snow covered riders climbed into their team buses and were transported to the new starting point, where after a nearly two hour break they remounted their bikes for an epic final 130kms – in yet more snow and rain.
The breakaway riders were slowly hauled in, and at around 40kms to go, Team Sky came to the front of the race to close that lead down completely, with the huge engined Stannard working at the front for Sky’s leaders for the race, double Olympic gold medallist Geraint Thomas, and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
But as the race hit the critical climb of the Cipressa with about 30kms to go, Thomas came down in a crash, and soon afterwards, Boasson Hagen drifted off the back of the lead group, leaving Stannard – easily recognisable in his National road race champion’s jersey – as Sky’s leading rider.
The 25-year-old forced a break with Sylvain Chavanel and Eduard Vorganov with around 20kms to go. But with Vorganov apparently refusing to take his turn at the front of this select group, Stannard was visibly shaking his head at the Russian’s lack of co-operation as he repeatedly dragged the trio along.
Hitting the final climb of day with just 9kms to the finishing line, Stannard and Chavanel stamped on their pedals as they climbed the Poggio, quickly dropping the Russian. But by now the chasers had organised themselves, and as the leading pair began their descent at the 4km point, they were caught.
But Stannard still wasn’t giving up. After a brief pause to gather his breath, he attacked again, but the sprinters in the now leading group, including eventual winner Gerald Ciolek – recording the first win in a World Tour race by an African based team – pulled Stannard back as they raced under the kilometre to go flag.
With Ciolek and pre-race favourite Peter Sagan facing each other off in the race to the finish line, Stannard bent over his bike to extract the last drop of effort to take 6th place, Team Sky’s best ever finish in this opening Classic of the season.
The conditions matched those in 2010 when Stannard, in his first year with Sky, finished in a near frozen Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne in the top three. In 2011 he took fourth place in the late season Paris–Tours after again forcing the pace following his solo ride across to the lead group.
The result had cycling fans in Milton Keynes celebrating, with social media reflecting the affection and respect that Stannard is held in by local cycling fans. Stacey Bushes cycle supremo Phil Corley – who, like Stannard, was crowned national road race champion – said: “It’s really difficult to put into words Stannard’s achievement with this race, it’s huge.”
Picture by Graham Watson