Feature: Classic end to Ian Stannard’s 2011 Season

Gordon Wiseman writes… Ian Stannard brought his 2011 racing season to a close on Sunday afternoon in the most stunning fashion, taking 4th place overall in one of the final classics of the season, the 230km Paris – Tour.

Having got over the very wet Paris – Bourges semi-classic on Thursday afternoon, the 24 year old pulled out all the stops in Sunday’s so called “sprinters classic” to top off a season that has seen him pick up his first pro win, a handful of top ten placings and prove that he is maturing well beyond his four years in the professional ranks.

Despite starting his racing year in early February and having clocked up more than 90 race days since then, Stannard has continued to be in the thick of the action having, in the last two weeks, competed in his last stage race of 2011, the four day Circuit Franco – Belge; Thursday’s 190km Paris-Bourges and the final coup de grace on Sunday, finishing on the Avenue de Grammont in Tours, one of the most famous straights in bike racing.

Ian was part of the seven man Sky squad that started the race, the same line-up that finished with Matt Hayman winning in Bourges earlier in the week and that saw veteran Norwegian Kurt-Asle Arvesen compete in his final race at Paris – Tour before retiring from competitive bike racing.

An early break built up a challenging lead of around 11 minutes but they were reeled in and Ian was then part of the more than 20 man group that forced its way to the front with around 50kms to go. Stannard described his tactics having got into that break.  “Stuart O’Grady was in the group so I tried to keep on his wheel because he was obviously going so well”.

Forging ahead, they opened a gap of just over a minute thirty with 25kms remaining but some riders then started to ride more for themselves rather than trying to keep a competitive group together and they were missing their turns. “The main problem of the day was the very strong cross winds” Ian explains. “That and the tired legs some of the guys had. Some of them had already been in the break that went away at the start of the race”.

With 15kms remaining, a rider broke clear but was slowly pulled back by a chasing pair that included eventual winner Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium. “Yeh, that was a mistake” Ian admitted sheepishly. “I was hoping that Stuey would mark Van Avermaet’s wheel and when he went I thought I’d missed the boat”.

With the leading pair up the road, another group of around half a dozen riders pulled away from Stannard’s group but he dug even deeper into his reserves and with just under 2.5kms remaining he dragged his way back onto six chasers and sat in to recover his strength. “Getting into that break with around 50kms to go, I knew I had a chance so having thought it had gone from me, I gave it full gas and managed to get across back to Stuey’s group”.

As this group slipped under the 1km to go banner, Ian, having sensibly bided his time, attacked again with another rider but was strong enough to slowly out-sprint his partner to come home in an exhausted but ecstatic fourth place as they crossed the finishing line.

“Getting a finish like that, it was a Classic, that has to be great.  But better than my win in Austria? I don’t know. A win’s a win but this was a Classic so I’m really not sure. But, it gives me a great platform for the winter and the new year to come”.

“I’m pleased with my results this year but that’s because I enjoy what I do. I’m consistent and will always do whatever job I’m asked to do so when the results come along as well, that’s great to!”