Sky targets first Monument win in Paris-Roubaix

Ian Stannard is counting down the hours until he lines up at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, and is hoping Team Sky can round off an encouraging Cobbled Classics campaign with a first Monument win.

Stannard will lead the Team Sky charge with Luke Rowe when he makes his seventh appearance in the race dubbed the ‘Hell of the North’, and has good legs after shaking off the illness which caused him to skip Ghent-Wevelgem.

The 28 year old impressed on his return at the Tour of Flanders last Sunday, and honed his condition further at Sheldeprijs on Wednesday before his focus turned fully on the ‘Queen of the Classics’.

Team Sky’s press officer caught up with him at the team’s hotel in Kortrijk to see how his preparations have been going, and to gauge his excitement ahead of the 114th edition.

Are you happy with the way your Classics have gone so far?

Yes, they’ve gone pretty well. It was nice to get stuck in during the final at Milan-San Remo and help get Ben [Swift] on the podium, and then I got on the podium myself at E3 Harelbeke after Michal [Kwiatkowski] had won it. That was good for my confidence after all the training I’d been doing, and especially after missing Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne through illness.

It was disappointing to get ill again and have to skip Ghent-Wevelgem, especially given the way it was raced in the crosswinds. Hard racing like that really suits me so it was a difficult one to watch, but it was the right decision to make because I’d recovered for the Tour of Flanders. I made it to the deep end there but made my main move just before the decisive attack went.

And what have you been up to this week?

We had an easy day on Monday, did a Paris-Roubaix reconnaissance ride on Tuesday, and I raced Scheldeprijs on Wednesday. Now we’re resting up and taking it easy to ensure we’re 100% ready for Sunday.

How did the reconnaissance ride go?

It was really useful. The cobbles were wet so it was good to ride them in those conditions and get a feel for them. They’re totally different when they’re like that – they’re more slippery and the way you apply your power when you’re riding over them needs to change. There’s not as much traction so it needs to a different type of effort, and we also looked at the way our bikes were set up to cope with that.

The curve of the road makes it different in those conditions as well – if you’re not right on the crown you risk slipping sideways on the camber – so all that needs taking into account.

Is rain still forecast for Sunday?

It’s looking OK right now, but it could rain a lot between now and then so we need to be prepared for anything.

How important is it for you to rest in the days before a big race like Paris-Roubaix?

Very important, I think. We’ve been training for these races for the last five months to get ourselves in peak condition and we’re not going to get any fitter in the next few days. It’s more beneficial to rest up at this stage and be as fresh as possible come Sunday.

When you say resting up, you will still be riding every day though.

Yes. Scheldeprijs was a long day so we only did an hour or so on Thursday. We did an extra hour easy on Friday, and we’ll add a few efforts to our ride on Saturday before we travel down to Compiègne for the start of the race on Sunday.

Can you sense the build-up of tension in the team as you get closer and closer to races like Flanders and Roubaix?

It’s a funny one, and I was only talking about that with Luke [Rowe] and G [Thomas] the other day actually. E3 and Ghent-Wevelgem are both WorldTour races, take place on similar roads with pretty much the same line-ups, but we don’t get nervous before them. There is a different feel before Flanders and Roubaix though. The prestige, history and sense of occasion are definitely in the air when you line up for those races. I wouldn’t say it affects us at the hotel, or even when we’re on the bus, but you do feel it at the start line.

Do you still look forward to riding Paris-Roubaix?

Absolutely. I can’t wait to get there and get racing. That goes for Flanders as well. They’re unique and special races and our whole year is built around them.

What’s your role going to be on Sunday?

Luke and I will be heading up the team I think with the other guys supporting us. Hopefully we can get up there and get a result.

You must be impressed with how Luke’s done this season?

Yes. He had a fantastic season last year but he’s definitely stepped up again.

Who do you see as your main rivals?

It’s all the usual suspects – the guys who have been up there in the last few weeks. Peter Sagan’s clearly strong, Fabian Cancellara’s looking good, Alexander Kristoff, Lars Boom and Sep Vanmarcke should all be there, and as a team Etixx – Quick-Step will be massively motivated. They haven’t had a result in the Cobbled Classics yet so they’ll be looking to put things right and going all out to achieve that.

Do you concentrate on how your rivals are going before a race, or are you focused purely on getting the best out of yourself?

It’s a bit of both. You do think about them, anticipating their form, and where they’re going to make their moves, but at the end of the day you have to focus on yourself the most – how you’re feeling, how you’ll respond to their attacks, and how we want the race to go as a team.

And we have a strong team in attendance.

Yes. We’re getting better and better with every passing season and that’s really starting to show now. Our positioning at Flanders was top notch and it’ll be the same on Sunday. Hopefully me and Luke can round that off and be in the mix when the race reaches the velodrome.

Will you be able to take a break once Paris-Roubaix is over?

Yes, I’ll take a week off to chill out and relax, and then it’ll all ramp up again for the summer. I’ll be back in training with the goal of making the Tour de France team. You have to earn your selection for that, and although it would be nice to take some more time off after Roubaix, I’m a professional bike rider and this is what we do.