British Cycling Podium Programme rider Ian Stannard is ready to make his mark on the Giro d’Italia as Team Sky look to continue their momentum.
The Brit will line up at the start of his fourth Grand Tour on Saturday in Denmark and will have a key role to play within the team’s nine-man squad. The 24-year-old has quickly gained a reputation as one of the most powerful and loyal workers in the peloton during his time with the team, traits he will look to display once again over the three-week test. After enjoying his customary early-season hit out in the Spring Classics, the rider affectionately known as ‘Yogi’ is now ready to bury himself for the cause at the Giro.
With finishes at the Giro and the Vuelta a Espana already under his belt, Stannard admits that the weeks building up to a Grand Tour become easier with the benefit of experience. “You know what to expect so I’m a bit more relaxed about it,” he said:
"The first week should be a bit harder. It’s not easy coming from the Classics straight into the Giro but I’m looking forward to it."
“I know where my form is so it should be a good race. I tried to chill out and rest up a bit after the Classics. The first week should be a bit harder. It’s not easy coming from the Classics straight into the Giro but I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good group of guys there, especially with a lot of riders I raced with in the Academy.”
Last seen chasing hard over the cobbles at Paris-Roubaix, Stannard admits that the transition from one-day Classics to a three-week Grand Tour is a test. The challenge will be all the greater with world champion Mark Cavendish gunning for stage victories, with Stannard admitting: “Every day in a Grand Tour is a massive effort, especially in the mountains for me. Even in the grupetto it’s not easy and then on the flat Cav’s up for the win and we’ve got to pull our finger out a bit there and deliver him. So it’s not going to be easy but it’s not all on the line for one day [like a Classic].”
The first week of the race looks to be ripe with opportunities for the team, with three likely sprint finishes and a team time trial once the event arrives back onto Italian shores. “It’ll be discussed when we get there but those days suit Cav. It’s obviously going to be hard there too and we’ve got to look after the GC guys. There’s going to be lots of cross-winds but with the team we’ve got there those flat days probably suit us more. It should be up our street. “It should be some good racing in Denmark.
"The GC contenders have got a lot to lose there and we obviously want to try and win the stages. It’s going to be nervous racing but a lot of us have raced in the cross-winds and know what we’re doing. We’ve got a good team for that, so as a group we can go in there confident and strong.”
When it comes to the art of riding in the frenzied environment of a sprint lead-out train, Stannard is unflustered and comfortable in his role. “I think you’re so in the zone you don’t really realise what’s going on around you,” he reasons. “You concentrate on your job, where your team-mates are and being in the right place. People get in your way and it annoys you for a split second but you are too busy concentrating on racing. You just get around them and sort it out.
“On the flat days it’s all about Cav and getting him up and hopefully across the line first. Then we’ve got the GC guys [Rigoberto] Urán and [Sergio] Henao. They are going to be up there so I’ll support them for as long as I can, then go in the grupetto, recover and rest up for the next day to do the same thing again. For three weeks! “I don’t struggle as much as others on the climbs so I know I can stay in the grupetto reasonably well so it’s not really a problem.
"I don’t panic about it. It’s just about doing your job for as long as you can and then you get dropped. You just need to make sure you recover while you’re on the bike, staying fuelled and start thinking about the next day. You’re starting the recovery process while you’re racing.”
Stannard made his Grand Tour debut at the Giro back in 2009 for the Italian ISD-Neri squad, an experience which he will always remember – not least because of the extreme temperatures! He remembers: “The heat was a major thing for me. I think we only had about 30k of rain and I struggled a bit in the heat in the mountains. In your first Grand Tour as well you don’t really know what to expect, how hard to go on some of the mountain days and where to push yourself and not. It’s all a learning process and I’m gradually picking it up as I go along.”
A contender in his own right during the Spring, Stannard is quite happy to work in support of his team-mates, adding: “I enjoy the start of the season and I’m happy to do my job for the other guys for the rest of it.”
With a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, much of that work-load involves chasing down attacks and breakaways, a scenario Stannard is comfortable in. “I know I can handle it and I know I can bring most of the guys back. Only Boonen,” he laughs! “We’ve got a strong team and I think we can handle the pressure. We’ve got the guys coming off the track so they’re going to have a fast lead-out on them. G [Geraint Thomas] proved that the other day in the prologue at Romandie."
Team Sky will have interactive text coverage throughout every stage of the Giro at www.teamsky.com.