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“I was quite confident once we got away. I could feel he wasn’t as strong as me. I knew there were three guys chasing us, they were ten seconds back at one point but coming into the last kilometre I could see they had dropped aw...

Photo: Sirotti

IAN STANNARD

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OMLOOP HET NIEUWSBLAD

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TEAM SKY

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01.03.2014 @ 19:51 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Ian Stannard put Team Sky on the classics map when he took an impressive win in today's rain-soaked edition of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in an impressive showing from the British team. Many were surprised that he didn't wait for his faster teammate Edvald Boasson Hagen in the sprint but the Brit was always confident that he was stronger in breakaway companion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC).

 

Ian Stannard became the first British winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after a thrilling finale in Gent. The 26-year-old claimed a two-up sprint from Greg van Avermaet in soaking conditions after Team Sky got their tactics spot on during a breathless run-in.

 

Opening his sprint early, Stannard was able to just edge out the BMC rider, while just behind Edvald Boasson Hagen completed a superb showing with third place. The Norwegian benefited from a free ride in the chasing group before out-sprinting Sep Vanmarcke and Niki Terpstra.

 

The team were on the front foot from early on as the famous cobbled climbs arrived thick and fast. Stannard demonstrated his form by cresting the Taaienberg in the top three among the lead pack, with Boasson Hagen proving the perfect foil following the penultimate climb of the Leberg.

 

After hunting down a host of dangerous attacks the riders in black and blue brought the race back together with 50km to go, setting up a sequence of events which led to the biggest win of Stannard’s career.

 

After taking the team’s second victory in the famous race following Juan Antonio Flecha’s success back in 2010, Stannard admitted the final kilometre had been a balancing act.

 

“I knew the guys behind us had dropped off a bit so it was just about playing it right,” he told Sporza. “I felt strong on the lead-in and I was confident for the sprint. I knew 300 metres [was a good distance]. I needed to wind it up a little bit and not have it be super fast.

 

“It worked out well. I knew I had to try and hit him as hard as I could and I was able to get a gap.”

 

“I was quite confident once we got away. I could feel he wasn’t as strong as me,” Stannard said. “I knew there were three guys chasing us, they were ten seconds back at one point but coming into the last kilometre I could see they had dropped away.

 

“I think he panicked a little bit and put me in a really good position for the sprint. I knew at 300 metres I needed it wind it up a bit but not super fast. It worked out well: it was a bit uphill as well so I was able to get a gap. I was just waiting for him to look the other way and then hit him hard at that mark. I got the gap and it worked out well.

 

Stannard didn't raise his arms when he crossed the line but it wasn't due to a lack of joy.

 

“No, I just wanted to make sure I got across the line first,” he laughed. “I was a bit cold and I didn’t want to sit up and put my arms up and have Greg come around me. I just wanted to get across the line, that was the priority.”

 

Today's race was held in wet conditions and Stannard has a habit of performing well in the rain. He was on the podium in the infamous 2010 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and was a key protagonist in last year's cold Milan-Sanremo.

 

“I’ve got a bit of a habit for it,” he admitted. “It’s tough. When everyone wakes up and sees it’s raining, that can be a downer on morale. But you’ve to get on with it. You’ve got to be in front and stay aware, because it’s easy to mess up on cobbles.

 

“They’re just hard, aren’t they? They suit me for one, they’re normally hard races in hard weather and I enjoy the hell out of them,” Stannard said of his love of the cobbles. “Banging around Flemish roads is fun.

 

“There’s a lot of racing coming up first but I’d like to perform at Paris-Roubaix. This is a stepping stone.”

 

Sports Director Servais Knaven heaped praise onto the team after the race.

 

"It was a really incredible show of teamwork today by the guys," he told TeamSky.com. "That's how you need to do it in the Classics - riding together and getting to the front. We have a really strong team and if you can be there at the front then this can happen. If you're strong like Ian was today you can beat anybody.

 

"We moved up ahead of the key climbs and yesterday we had a look at that part of the course. It's easier said than done but from then on we saw the guys were at the front and we barely missed a break. That's how you have to do it. We chased one move and we were back in the race.

 

"Bernie [Eisel] did a great job. Luke [Rowe who was 11th] was right up there and then obviously Eddy. On another day he could have won the race. That showed you the strength of the team today."

 

Knaven also gave us an update on a couple of crashes ahead of Sunday's Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne.

 

"Christian went down and so did Salvatore (Puccio). They have a bit of pain but they seem okay. They crashed on cobbles which is never nice but they are both really excited about the victory. It's great for the morale. We knew the riders were able to do it but it's so hard to actually pull off a win. Now they all know they can do it so it will be a great boost for us."

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