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Ian Stannard (Team Sky) defended his Omloop Het Nieuwsblad title and pulled off an incredible victory today despite being outnumbered in the final break.
Stannard found himself in a four-man breakaway with a narrow gap as they headed into the final 40 kilometres by three Etixx – Quick-Step riders: Tom Boonen, Stijn Vandenbergh and Niki Terpstra.
Stannard shut down a pair of late attacks on the run into Gent before out-sprinting Niki Terpstra to seal the victory.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Ian Stannard told TeamSky.com after the race. “It’s nice to do the double sweep at the race, but after the difficulties I had last year breaking my back it’s nice to have got myself back to where I was.
“Being with those three guys I knew they were all committed to trying to win. As a team they haven’t won it for 10 years and it’s a big one missing off Boonen’s palmares. I knew they were going to race hard. With Sep Vanmarcke and Greg van Avermaet chasing behind it put the pressure on them. I could just sit back, play a bit of poker and enjoy the ride.
“I just wanted to get a free ride for as long as I could. That was my idea. When they all started attacking me it wasn’t a great feeling. When Boonen went I was thinking ‘right, what do I do here?’ I knew if I rode him back I’d get attacked. I paced myself back a little bit. I could feel the wheel behind was trying hard to stay with me. So I felt like it was going pretty good and then I just took my chance.”
“All the guys got me into the climbs perfectly. I felt a bit of pressure when you’ve got a Tour de France winner putting it all on the line for you. You can only really finish it off can’t you! The whole team has really lifted a level since last year. We were always at the front and always perfectly positioned. Quick-Step took me to the end and I only had to race the last 4km (laughs)!”
The small gap that the four-man breakaway had and a chasing peloton played into Stannard’s hands, even though he was outnumbered.
Tom Boonen said, “Today we made a mistake in the final. We were in control of the race with three riders in the front group. In the final kilometers we attacked. Niki went first, Stannard reacted, and then I countered with my move. I was pretty sure at that time that it was the right moment to do it. But Stannard had the strategy to ride on the wheels of us three in the lead group, and save his energy until the final kilometers, so he was a bit fresher. He was also strong today. So, he caught me. The best thing to do at that point would have been to stay calm and wait for the sprint. But we had been full gas for the last hour, so really it was about instinct at that point. So, Niki attacked again, then Stannard, and then the final sprint was between those two guys. There is a thin line between a great race and a costly mistake and unfortunately we took the risk of not waiting for the sprint, and it didn’t work out. It would have been great to win the race, but that’s cycling. Congrats to Stannard. He rode a smart tactical race and his reactions to our attacks were impressive.”
Niki Terpstra added, “In the end I was alone with Stannard. I was in front for the sprint. I saw it was 300 meters and I decided not to go yet. Then I accelerated at 200 meters. Normally that is perfect for me, but I didn’t have the perfect sprinting legs after the big effort all day. I thought I had him until 50 meters in front of the finish line. I had nothing left in my legs at that point. Looking back, maybe it would have been better to wait for the sprint with Tom and not attacking, but it’s a question of moment and circumstances.”
However, Etixx-QuickStep team manager Patrick Lefevre was critical towards Stannard’s tactics. He told Sporza, “Stannard did what he had to do. Then again, I think that a rider from his calibre from that team should share the work until the gap was 40 seconds. He played it hard but tomorrow or next week it’s another race, then we can play that game. Stannard was team leader today. A team leader that was on the wheels for 40 kilometres. A rider of his level, a team leader, doesn’t stay on the wheels for 40 kilometres.”
“For us it wasn’t possible to play poker. There were three men at 20 seconds then you have to keep riding.”
Up next for the opening weekend of the Spring Classics is Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday, March 1, which can typically end in a breakaway or a bunch sprint. You can see the full Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne startlist here.
STANNARD Ian STANNARD Ian Team Sky
TERPSTRA Niki TERPSTRA Niki Etixx - Quick Step
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BOONEN Tom BOONEN Tom Etixx - Quick Step
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