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Ian Stannard interview

The 2012 National Champion tells us about joining Team Sky, three broken discs and disc brakes.

Ian Stannard portrait
Josh Cunningham
28 Apr 2015

Cyclist: You had the biggest result of your career last season when you won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. How did it feel to win such a big race?

Ian Stannard: It was a bit of a landmark. I had a really good ride at Strade Bianchi before it and kept moving forwards. Het Nieuwsblad is a fairly big race, and so it was really great to perform there and show everyone what I could do. I’d been training really hard throughout that whole period, so it was nice to finish it with the win before moving on to the bigger Classics. [Since this interview, Stannard won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for a second time in February.] It was all looking good in 2014 – right until I ended up in that ditch, really.

Cyc: Yes, can you tell us about that crash at Gent-Wevelgem?

IS: We’d just gone up the Kemmelberg, then the Monteberg, and we were on the descent of that. There were guys kind of everywhere, then, as it was coming back together, I was trying to get back to the front. I somehow got tangled in the cable of someone’s rear derailleur, and as he looked around [to check], the movement took me down. It happened so quickly. There was an impact and a crunch. Once you’ve crashed enough you know which are the bad ones – the ones you’re not going to get up from, and I just knew it was one of those, even as it was happening. It was a pain I’ve never really had before – lots of spasms in my stomach and my back. I remember going through a little checklist in my mind: ‘Head, OK; arms, OK; legs... Crap, I can’t feel my legs.’

Cyc: What happened after that?

IS: Well, initially I was ferried off to hospital in Belgium, and there was a bit of a language barrier. But they’re all mad for cycling, obviously, and had been watching the race, so as I came in it was like they were expecting me. One of the doctors came in and said, ‘It’s going to be painful, but you’ll be able to ride Roubaix!’ Then someone else came in and said I’d really buggered myself. Then I came home and it turned out I had broken my back in three places.

Cyc: How did you get better?

IS: The recovery was all about bed rest really. For someone who’s used to riding their bike four to six hours a day, as well as everything else that goes along with being a bike rider, living like someone whose highlight of the day is Homes Under The Hammer or Dickinson’s Real Deal is really challenging. I probably lost about 20,000 training and racing kilometres, too – and I’ll never get those back. The boredom factor was the most challenging part, I think. Then I started to get back into training, and it took a good month and a half before I started seeing some fitness. One of my first races back was the Eneco Tour in Belgium, and while fighting for tiny little bits of road, as you do over in Belgium, I was just nervous as hell. Then I crashed again at the Tour of Britain, and that was my 2014 season. I was back to watching Dickinson’s Real Deal after that.

Ian Stannard interview

Cyc: You’ve been with Team Sky since they started, and 2015 will be the team’s sixth year. Does it feel like a long time?

IS: It does and it doesn’t. I’m 27 now, and when I stop and think about it, it feels like a hell of a long time. But occasionally I still feel like I’m 18 and up in Manchester, on the academy with Rod [Ellingworth], G [Geraint Thomas] and Swifty [Ben Swift].

Cyc: Despite being an academy rider as an Under 23, you turned professional with the Belgian team Landbouwkrediet and spent a year with the Italian team ISD. How was life away from home?

IS: At British Cycling and the academy we always had Rod [Ellingworth] and everybody looking over us, so when I left it was a feeling of, ‘Whoa, I’m free!’ But I think in some ways I was too free, and there were days where if I couldn’t be bothered to train then I wouldn’t. It was a massive learning experience because I had always been guided through the academy by Rod: ‘You should be doing this, doing that,’ and then you’re free and you lose that routine a little bit. In my second year away at ISD I realised that I had to put a lot more work in, then I came back to Team Sky and was surrounded by guys like [Juan Antonio] Flecha – people that I’d looked up to when I was a kid – and looking at them I began to think, ‘Wow, I really need to knuckle down here.’ Then it just spiralled, and it’s led to me being where I am now. So going back to your original question, although it’s been a relatively long time, talking about it now, it doesn’t seem long at all.

Cyc: With yourself and a few other British riders, Team Sky has a potentially very strong Classics team. Do you think there would be any scope to switch your main focus from Grand Tours to the Classics?

IS: No, not really, as we’ve got Froomey and Richie [Porte] as well as a strong Classics team, but it’s an interesting mix. We’re still quite young comparatively, if you look at Trek and Cancellara, or Quick-Step and Boonen, and I think Nieuwsblad last year showed what we can do. So, hopefully, we’ll have a bit better luck this year and really manage to pull something out of the bag.

Ian Stannard omloop

Cyc: Do you think Team Sky are doing everything they can for British talent?

IS: I can see why people might not think so – maybe the Yates brothers were a bit of a miss. But we’ve still got a lot of British riders who are young, like Luke Rowe, Josh Edmondson – we’ve just signed Andy Fenn, too. But it’s nice to have other Brits in different teams. We haven’t all got to be at Team Sky. Who knows? Maybe not everyone in the UK wants to ride for Team Sky, either.

Cyc: Tinkoff-Saxo boss Oleg Tinkov wants to see riders do all three Grand Tours. With talk of UCI reforms to the racing calendar, is this a realistic idea?

IS: Doing one Grand Tour is pretty solid. I don’t think people really grasp how much it takes out of you. There’s not many guys who can do two in a year and be up there on GC, especially if they haven’t pulled out of the other one early. But three? I think cycling is a lot cleaner than it was years ago, and you’d have to go a long way back in history to see guys perform at all three of them. I don’t think it’s doable unless you reduce the length of the Grand Tours, then only have so many mountaintop finishes, and generally make them less fatiguing. Riding three Grand Tours is a massive, undertaking for any professional cyclist.

Cyc: The cycling industry at large has been going disc-brake crazy recently. What do you think? Do you ever see them infiltrating the pro ranks?

IS: You certainly see arguments for and against, but I had a ride on some Shimano ones and I thought they were great. They have a part to play in the development of the sport as well. I mean, rim brakes, how long have they been around for? Mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes have already made the switch, so I think it’s only a matter of time – maybe when Campag have a decent hydraulic road disc brake sorted. People say there will be a range of problems with heat, or brakes fading, but, when you think about it, when you’re riding in the wet you’ll have none of that – and there will be none of the lag in braking time. I think there are arguments for both sides but personally I’d like to see them in the sport. 

We spoke to Ian Stannard during the Revolution track series. For more information, visit cyclingrevolution.com