Stannard gears up for long road ahead

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CYCLIST Ian Stannard flies to Qatar this week to start his 2011 racing season with his team-mates at Team Sky, fully aware of what the new year holds for him.

After weeks of training he can’t wait to pin on a race number for the first time this year - and the six day stage race over the arid, flat and windy Qatari roads will be the perfect way for him to kick-start the build-up to his busy Classics campaign in March and April.

During the winter Team Sky adopted a new tactic of holding an open training camp in Majorca that the riders could dip in and out of as they required. And with the weather in the UK having been so bad, that’s proved a real boost for the 23-year-old.

Now entering his fourth year as a professional bike rider, Stannard is starting to benefit from his earlier apprenticeships with two smaller Belgian and Italian teams.

The Castlethorpe ride is known for his love of the cobbled Classic races and excelled in those early season races last year - his best result of the season being his third place finish at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne in Belgium.

By the time that Stannard reaches his two favourite races of the year - the Tour of Flanders and Paris - he’ll probably have more than 25 days racing in his legs, and that should serve him well later in the season.

He accepts that he is still very much learning his trade but at the same time keeps his own goals very firmly to the forefront of his mind.

And that determination could well see him win one of the cobbled races he’s dreamed of since he first started racing his bike.