Ian Stannard and Omloop retention
I will freely admit to being terrible at headlines. Quite often I just write something down off the top of my head and if it sounds slightly weird, I go with it. That is precisely what has happened today.
I named Ian Stannard one of my riders to watch in 2015 in large part because he won the Omloop last year. After breaking his back shortly afterwards, I suggested/hoped that he might pick up where he left off this season. Almost as if a 12-month period of Stannard’s life has been Ctrl-Xed out of his life, this is almost exactly what has happened, for this weekend he won the Omloop again.
It was a striking win as well for the fact that the race finished with Stannard surrounded by those arch classicists, Etixx-Quick Step. Three of them – Tom Boonen, Stijn Vandenbergh and Niki Terpstra – to one of him. Well, one and a bit – he’s a big bloke, after all. Even if that quick stepping trio had put in most of the work to get away from the chasing pack in the first place, you’d think they could have organised themselves to get the better of their one rival at the death. But they didn’t.
A day later, there was another British win as Mark Cavendish took Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. It’s another cobbled Belgian race, but not quite so tough – hence the sprint finish. Cavendish has won more races this year than anyone, but bigger tests await.
Strade Bianche on Saturday should be good fun, but spring’s conjoined twin stage races, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico loom large just afterwards.
Last year, I did a comparison of who was riding which race and Paris-Nice appeared the poor relation. This year, the contrast is even more marked because Tirreno-Adriatico has attracted Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana. These four are the strongest Grand Tour riders in the world, the main contenders for this year’s Tour de France, and they’ve never raced together before.
Throw in Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Joaquim Rodriguez, Fabian Cancellara and Dan Martin and you wonder who’s left to enter Paris-Nice. Comedy friends of the site like Domenico Pozzovivo and Carlos Betancur perhaps? No, afraid not – they’re both at Tirreno-Adriatico as well.
But don’t discount the French race. Despite the starting line-ups, it was arguably the more interesting race last year. The Grand Tour contenders will be in Italy, but Paris-Nice appears to have drawn the kinds of neither-one-thing-nor-the-other riders who tend to thrive when bike races are most interesting. Michael Matthews, John Degenkolb, Michael Kwiatkowski and Philippe Gilbert may win less frequently, but when they do take a stage, it tends to have been a good one. There are also a few Brits – Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins for Sky and Simon Yates for Orica-GreenEdge.
Both should be good races. Paris-Nice starts on Sunday, Tirreno-Adriatico next Wednesday.