Ian Stannard took the biggest win of his career on Saturday out sprinting local favourite Greg Van Avermaet to win the opening cobbled Classic, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
The 26-year-old city rider has developed a reputation as being one of the hard men of the pro peloton and after a number of years working at the service of his team-mates at Team Sky nominated him as leader and he didn’t disappoint.
The nearly 199km race started in Gent, looped south before returning to the start town after taking in many of the famous hellingen, cobbled climbs, that make these Belgian races only for the hard men of the sport.
And after starting in the bitter cold with strong winds blowing across the course, with around 70kms to go heavy rain started to fall making the conditions all the more to Stannard’s liking.
A group of seven riders made an initial break, but they were hunted down by a chasing pack, including Stannard, who then mounted an attack of his own.
Van Avermaet jumped on Ian’s wheel and the two riders then worked together to keep the chasers at bay.
Constantly looking over their shoulders to see how far behind the chasers were, the leading two kept their narrow lead to the finish, with Stannard keeping his cool to win.
He said: “I knew once we’d made the break that, if we worked together the win was on. I was pretty convinced that I was the stronger rider of the two of us. When it came to the sprint, I put it into the top gear and just committed myself, totally focussed.
“I don’t think it’s properly sunk in yet, but it shows what I can do. Winning Het Nieuwsblad is stepping stone, now I know I can move on to bigger and better stuff.
“I’m the first British rider to win Nieuwsblad but I want to be the first British rider to win Paris-Roubaix!”
And he has his eyes set on the Tour de France squad again too.