IAN STANNARD reached a major milestone in his professional cycling career when he claimed his first ever individual race win by taking the fifth stage of the Tour of Austria on Thursday.
The 24-year-old instigated the main break of the day that formed before the 27km mark going into Schladming, just as the race was approaching the first of the day’s three climbs. And the other four riders that joined him then worked together to ensure that the quintet stayed away from the peloton for the rest of the 157.2km stage.
With its mountainous terrain, it’s no surprise that most of the Austrian national Tour’s eight stages feature difficult climbs, and although Thursday’s stage was the first that didn’t reach eye-watering heights, it still proved to be a stern test for the nearly 130 riders.
With much of the world’s press attention and the sport’s enthusiasts focused on the Tour de France at present, Stannard admitted after the race that it was easy to think that no one would notice what the six man Team Sky squad were doing.
He said: “We all feel a bit left out here with the Tour de France going on so thought we’d better do something and let everyone know we’re in Austria.
“And what better way to get everyone’s attention than taking a stage win!”
Stannard has always been known as something of a Classics specialist with his main focus of each racing year being the cobbled races of northern Europe in March and April, but he’s always then gone on to show his team-based work ethic as a Tour rider for the rest of the year, and has been quietly developing as a stage rider in his own right.
“I’m climbing much better now and people forget that I can sprint,” he said. “The other four riders certainly didn’t know I could until we crossed the finishing line, that’s for sure.”
This year has seen Stannard come very close to that elusive first pro win. He was leading the prestigious Gent–Wevelgem Classic at the end of March until he was caught inside the final 300 metres, and his 8th place in the Tour of Switzerland was, until then, his best ever stage result. Plus he just missed out on selection for the Tour de France with Team Sky.
Stannard then took an almost unheralded 4th place in the recent National Road Race Championships that showed what good form he was taking into the Osterreich Rundfahrt.
His opening attack of the day was part of the plan that was hatched out by Team Sky before the day’s racing started.
Stannard explained: “The plan was to get in the break as this stage looked to have the best chance of it staying away. I managed to get in the break and it was a pretty strong group of five, so it all looked quite good.”
But even as that early break was forming, it would have been difficult to imagine that the rest of the field would have allowed them to stay away for the rest of the stage.
The quintet slowly built up a lead that stretched to over four minutes before the reeling in process started. But having tackled the final climb, that lead was still just under three minutes with a tail wind pushing the riders along.
Into the final metres and with the bunch still nearly a minute behind, Stannard used the skills and knowledge he’d gained by riding the track as a youngster to cross the line first.
“I just tried to play it pretty cool and won the sprint,” he said. “I think maybe that little bit of knowledge you get from the track probably helped, just laying off them a little bit at the end and using it to my advantage.”
And to make his achievement even more impressive, Stannard admitted that he was fighting to overcome a cold going into the race.
“I’ve still got good legs and there’s still three stages to go. I quite fancy the time trial and having now broken the ice, I’m hoping for yet more race wins before too long,” he added.