With the forecast calling for rain and a high in the low 50’s, Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix could turn out to be a messy affair. Though fans may relish the prospect of a mythic, mud-splattered “Hell of the North,” deteriorating conditions demand riders with unusual grit and determination. Team Sky’s Ian Stannard is one of those men.
The Chelmsford native’s third-place finish in 2010’s freezing, rain-soaked Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne was particularly memorable — both for the young rider’s strong finish and a post-race interview in which the visibly trembling Stannard could barely complete a sentence.
“I don’t remember a huge amount,” the 24-year-old admits of the day’s winning break.
“If if I hadn’t have been in that little move I’d probably have been on the bus with everyone else to be honest, but when you’re sitting in that position you can’t get off [the bike] because you’re too cold, can you? I crossed the line and my body just shut down,” he told VeloNews. “It was like an instant kind of thing. My body was just like ‘that’s it.’”
Does Stannard relish the prospect of a similarly rain-soaked Roubaix?
“Yes and no,” he said. “You hear a lot of horror stories about people breaking their legs and hurting their knees. So yeah, you don’t want to end your career in Roubaix, but you know it’s also a race that everyone wants to win. When I was younger I used to watch it in the rain and thought ‘Wow, it would be cool to win that.’
“As you get older and a bit more sensible, you find a [healthy] fear of it too, I guess. But it’s just a bit of rain. You’ve just got to accept that you’re going to crash once or twice, and that it’s going to slippery and dodgy as hell and just get on with it.”
Team Sky approaches Sunday with a pair of presumptive leaders, backed by a strong supporting squad, including Australia’s Christopher Sutton, Jeremy Hunt and Bernhard Eisel.
The squad has taken on a load of work in the early classics. Hayman and Hunt were among the riders who worked hard, but ultimately in vain, to pull Mark Cavendish to the peloton at Milan-San Remo. Eisel supported Edvald Boasson Hagen at Ghent-Wevelgem, but ultimately sprinted for his own place on the podium after the Norwegian warned that his legs were not good. And last Sunday at the Tour of Flanders, Hayman was among the men who closed a late gap after a crash on the Paterberg split the peloton a little over 30km from the finish. Sky would ultimately miss out on the winning break, leaving Roubaix as the team’s last chance to take a win out of the cobbled classics.
“We’ve got Edvald and [Juan Antonio] Flecha,” said Stannard. “They’re our main guys here, but then there’s also Hayman, who’s super strong. There’s [Christian] Knees, and hopefully I can go well too.”
Will a multi-pronged approach improve the team’s chances?
“There are just so many factors that come into play at Roubaix,” said Stannard. “Once you get across the [Arenberg] Forest you have to see what the group’s like, who’s where, and then you can take it from there. Obviously, we’re expecting Flecha to be there and Eddy as well, so you know, if it comes down to the finish and they’re there [we’ll all be] riding for them. That’s my job.”
After Roubaix, Stannard’s attention will shift to a pair of high-profile targets.
“I’ve got the Giro after this, so I don’t have much time off. But then it’s all sort of toward the [Olympic Games in London]. Being there with Cavendish, hopefully we’ve got a good chance.”