Ian Stannard and Alex Dowsett temporarily put their professional Team Sky racing colours to one side to compete for Team GB at last week’s Elite World Road Race Championships.
Gordon Wiseman writes …
The 8 days of racing in the Netherlands saw Dowsett race in all three of the Elite championship races, the team time trial, individual time trial and the mammoth 267km road race with Stannard concentrating on the team time trial and the main event of the week, the Elite Road Race.
It was the first time the sport’s governing body, the UCI, had organised an Elite team time trial with World Championship status but 32 of cycling’s top professional outfits took up the 53.2km challenge and the spectacle did not disappoint.
With each team’s recorded time being set by the fourth man to cross the line, it was essential for each team to finish with at least that number out of their starting line-up of six riders and after Sky had lost Olympic Team Pursuit gold medallist Geraint Thomas and Columbian Sergio Henao, Dowsett and Stannard knew they had to hold their places to give their team a medal chance.
Alex Dowsett racing on home roads…
On the day, despite the long turns taken by the Essex pairing, it wasn’t to be Sky’s title and they finished in 9th place overall with a time of 1hr 4mins 49secs. But the finishing quartet took some solace from their climbing up the final placings in the final 20kms even though this included the toughest part of the course.
“I knew we had a strong team on the day even though in a non-Olympic year we probably would have been able to field a stronger squad” explained Dowsett. “As I was really the only time trial specialist riding on the day, I knew I had a lot of responsibility to do a ride. In the individual time trial you’re only riding for yourself but in the team event you’ve got your team-mates relying on you so you give that extra bit of effort”.
Alex unshipped his chain as Sky left the starting ramp, “the cobbles got to me again this year” he joked later but he didn’t think that actually affected the team’s final finishing position.
“With the disrupted season I’ve had, I was very pleased with the way I was able to ride up the climbs, especially the finishing climb up the Cauberg. I get to ride my time trial bike more than most of the other guys and Ian said afterwards that I was the only one of our team that really looked comfortable.”
“I really appreciated that and I think that familiarity with my bike helped me on the climbs. But on the flatter sections, Ian’s power really kicked in and we were all suffering then to keep on his back wheel!”
After a few days rest, Dowsett lined up for the 45.7km individual time trial and was Team GB’s sole representative in this race against the clock after Tour de France hero and time trial Olympic bronze medallist Chris Froome was not able to take to the start line.
Avoiding the start ramp problems he experienced in the team time trial, Dowsett was able to use his experience of riding his time trial bike around the World Championship course from his effort in the earlier event. Talking after driving to a Swiss training base where Alex is for the next few days he said; “The events I’ve ridden for Sky these last few weeks have not been the best preparation for the time trial but I had a job to do. I know that with proper preparation, I could have set a quicker time. If I get a chance next year in the World’s, I’m sure that a podium place is possible”.
Not that 8th place overall could be considered to be a ‘bad’ result. “No, I’m actually very pleased with that. I’d hoped for something in the top ten so 8th, yes I’m very happy with that”.
And in setting that time Alex took some notable scalps including that of previous Tour de France winner, and winner of this year’s Vuelta a Espana, Alberto Contador. “The World’s course was nothing like a time trial course in the UK. On the Dutch roads, I was never in a full aero position for more than 4km. In a UK event, you’d expect to be down on the aero bars for the full 40kms. But my split times were really consistent despite the course being up and down for the entire distance”.
For Sunday’s Elite Road Race Dowsett knew he’d be playing a supporting role leaving it to Stannard to fly Team GB’s red, white and blue and that’s exactly what the Chelmsford born rider did. “This World’s course was never a course that would suit me and, to be honest, on the day I didn’t have the best legs,so I knew I’d be playing a support role” says Dowsett. “I was covering breaks at the front of the race with (outgoing World Champion) Mark Cavendish and after about 160km I climbed off. It was my first Elite World Championships so overall I was pleased with my efforts” summarised Alex.
But with his Classics background, Stannard is more used to the 260km plus distance of the World’s and he used his strength and experience to the full as he worked for Team GB’s nominated leader, the recent Tour of Britain winner Jonathan Tiernan-Locke.
After the usual tally of attacks and counter attacks that always feature in the World’s race had been brought back, part way around the penultimate lap the American Andrew Talansky attacked on a short climb and Ian immediately shot out of the bunch to cover the effort and for a while, it looked suspiciously like the pair would race away to contest between them the battle for cycling’s coveted rainbow jersey.
However, despite being pulled back with the final lap to go, Ian still had enough in the tank to police Tiernan-Locke as the final kilometres clicked by and as the peloton dived into the base of the Cauberg climb for the final time, Stannard was clearly seen at the front of the bunch, constantly looking over his shoulder for his team-mate to usher him into an attacking position.
Ian Stannard earlier in the year winning the British road champs solo.
Stannard’s Team GB and Team Sky team-mate Chris Froome recognised the amount of work Ian had put in during the race commenting that he “…did the ride of his life today. For a big boy like him to get round a course like this – that’s really impressive”.
In his first ever World Championship’s and his first race at such a distance, Tiernan Locke had exceeded expectations by staying at the front of the race and in touch with Stannard and as Ian pulled over with less than 2kms to go and his job for the day done, JTL dug in deep in the drag to the finishing line but just drifted off the front to finish in 19th place, just 5 seconds behind the winner, Belgian favourite Philippe Gilbert. Stannard came home in 36th place.
“It was a disappointing result really” says Stannard though. “We lost two of our riders quite early on and so it was always going to be difficult to get a result after that” he explained. “I knew it’d be hard for the last two climbs of the Cauberg and so when Talansky went up the road, I knew that if I got up to him, we’d be able to work together to see what sort of distance we could put in the bunch.”
“And if we built up a lead of around 30 seconds then we’d have everything to play for. We were pulled back though but at least that meant I was still up there to work for Tiernan Locke if he still had the legs. And he did. He put in a really good ride”.
“Racing in the World’s is always great. I love wearing my National Road Race champion’s jersey but wearing your national kit in an event like the World’s, that’s really something” was Ian’s final assessment of the race.
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