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Remembering the time Ian Stannard played QuickStep at their own game and won

24 Feb 2022

Opening Weekend is here, the true start of the cycling season. To celebrate, let’s remember Ian Stannard.

His greatest win came at the 2015 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad when he got the better of QuickStep trio of Tom Boonen, Stijn Vanderburgh and Niki Terpstra. Here we look back at our celebration of that ride

Words Joe Robinson Photography Offside

What’s the best cycling race you've ever watched? I’m not talking about roadside or after the results have rolled in either. I mean the best race you watched live on the telly, the real excitement of not knowing what will happen next, glued to your sofa with your eyes fixed to Eurosport. 

Maybe Matty Hayman winning Paris-Roubaix out of nowhere in 2016 or maybe Stage 18 of the 1986 Tour de France when LeMond and Hinault crossed the Alpe d’Huez finish line arm in arm. Or Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux, that was good, wasn’t it?

For me it’s easy. It’s the 2015 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Man, what a race. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited by cycling. It still gives me chills today. It’s the race that I compare all others to and the reason I’m often left so disappointed by racing.

Seeing Ian Stannard doing a number on three Quick-Step riders – the Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and big Stijn Vandenburgh – playing them at their own game and winning was gripping viewing.

It was a modern-day David vs Goliath story, just this time there were three Goliaths and it was on their home turf. Three giants of the Classics versus one boy from Essex. Eight Monuments vs none. 

Stannard doesn’t look like a cyclist, you see. He was only 27 at the time but he didn’t look it, in fact he’s never really looked his age. A thinning lid and cultured face have meant he has always looked like he is in his forties.

He looks like the bloke from work who’s doing your Sunday League team a favour because you’re a bit short one week – having a cheeky half before the game, pulling on a pair of boots that haven't seen the light of day for a while, asking for some deep heat.

But then he gets out onto the pitch and is Andrea Pirlo without the hair, dictating the entire game from the centre circle like you’re all his puppets.

Also, he’s an Essex boy and boys from Essex don’t become Classics stars. They play football or get a job in Canary Wharf or they star in TOWIE. Boys from Flanders or the Netherlands win the Classics, like Boonen, Terpstra and Vandenburgh.

But Stannard is different because he’s got an engine. – an engine that means despite being all alone with three Quick-Step riders for 43km they couldn’t drop him.

That’s basically the distance between Manchester and Liverpool that they had to shrug him off, and they couldn’t.

Watch the final 10km back again on Youtube. Tornado Tom goes first with 4.6km to go. 900m later, Stannard’s got him back in his pocket. Straight away, Niki and Stijn jump. Nope, not today lads, big Ian’s got your cards marked. 

Then, to just add insult to injury, Stannard himself pops off the front, churning away that massive gear, his teeth gritted. Vandenburgh’s had enough and Boonen, the great Tom Boonen, well he’s done for too. 

Now it’s just Stannard and Terpstra. I’m sitting at home, pulling my hair out. How is this happening? Ian Stannard, Yogi Bear, is pulling the carpet from under Quick-Step. From Tommeke, from Niki Terpstra. 

A second win at Omloop? Beating three riders from the same team after being injured for almost all of the season before? Stannard doesn’t mind if he does.

‘I think that a rider from his calibre from that team should share the work until the gap is 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,’ said Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere afterwards, leaning over his spilt milk.

Just look at him on that podium. Terpstra to his right and Boonen to his left. He has just committed the biggest robbery since Gareth Gates lost Pop Idol to Will Young and yet he’s not the slightest bit fazed.

I’ve seen people look more excited having won the evening crit at Gravesend than Stannard does here. How cool can you get?

It has been almost seven years since Stannard produced that day of magic and a lot has changed for me. In that time, I’ve got my history degree, become unemployed, become an ad salesman and become a cycling journalist. I went from being a cheerleader of the sport to a critic. A fan to a cynic.

No more cheering on a certain rider to victory, or team to a win. Now, I sit back, take it all in and try and find the story. Especially for Team Sky/Ineos, who for every success seem to have had an accompanying flaw in the last few years. 

Except for Stannards, because after the emotions he made me feel in 2015, I don’t think I could ever view him impartially. I’m always going to just be a fan. He gave me the greatest moment I’ve had watching a bike race and I don’t think it'll be ever topped.