1. to win a race against insurmountable odds, with unchanging facial expression and position on the bike.
2. to nail one’s line on a roundabout
It’ll be in the dictionary before long. I Stannard, you Stannard, he Stannards etc. Stannarding away to unlikely victory.
Whether riding slowly or at 50 kilometres per hour or making the all-important attack at last weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, it made no difference: the permanently-pained, open-mouth expression on Ian Stannard’s face didn’t seem to shift. Neither did his position on the bike. He didn’t get out of the saddle to deliver the late wallop that got rid of two Etixx riders. You can’t even tell when he’s attacking.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad had a welcome unpredictable twist after looking like the same old cobbled Classics episode. You could have been forgiven for turning the telly off with ten kilometres to go. Here was the most surefire scenario in a modern sport growing increasingly predictable: three very strong team-mates on one.
Stannard takes Terpstra with him. pic: Offside/L’Equipe
Who’d have thought a Team Sky rider would be the plucky underdog let alone the winner in that situation? Nobody can begrudge the defending champion, especially given the time he’s had since winning. “It’s been a hard couple of months since breaking my back, then getting fit, then breaking my wrist,” Stannard said remarkably matter-of-factly, as if talking about stubbing his toe on the skirting board.
Stannard is a curious case, the Benjamin Button of the Classics scene, somehow seeming to grow younger as he goes along. He has been around a while – his first Tour of Flanders was in 2008 – but is only 27 years old. When he turned pro, he looked like he should already have 2.5 kids and a holiday cottage in Bournemouth. Yet he doesn’t age, simultaneously possessing the face of a baby and the hairline of a seasoned plumber.
Surely he’s shedding the reputation as a tactical lummox, a bunch engine who pulls on the front at inopportune moments. And for a man who apparently can’t sprint, he’s claimed some good scalps in Van Avermaet and Terpstra.
Of course, credit must also go to Etixx for their big part in the cock-up. Stijn Vandenbergh has form at throwing away Het Nieuwsblad, doing all the work in a two-up break with fast finisher Luca Paolini in 2013. But wrecking the chances of two team-mates by chasing down Terpstra? Truly dunderheaded.
Ian Stannard: the face of a baby, the hairline of a plumber. pic: Offside/L’Equipe
The final eight kilometres played out like a Cycling Manager computer game in which the controller presses the wrong buttons. It was refreshingly human, though. To err is human, but they might have to win the Tour of Flanders to earn divine forgiveness (or at least that of team manager Patrick Lefevere).
Meanwhile, I can imagine the Flemish journalists crowding round afterwards, making a fuss about Stannard. Where was this bona fide flahute from? Did he just materialise fully-grown in the street one day like the Terminator? They probably figured Yorkshire, or perhaps the Isle of Man, where every second citizen seems to be a hard-as-nails professional cyclist.
“Er, Milton Keynes,” would be Stannard’s response. No lions, Classics or cobbles there. But boy can he take a perfect line on a roundabout.
HEADLINE OF THE WEEK
“Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Three Riders in Top 5, Four in Top 10.”
Etixx-Quick Step look at the positives on their team website after Saturday’s Classics season-opener.
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH
0 – The number of times Ian Stannard has finished inside the top 30 at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
Fast forward to 13.00 to see Ian Stannard’s first win as a pro cyclist.
You may have missed the Drôme Classic at the weekend, won by cycling’s smallest pro, Samuel Dumoulin. A cracking, corner-strewn downhill finale.
Plunky lift music, crashes and colourful jerseys, with added Herety and Jones up the road. Paris-Nice ’83.