Former European and Junior Track Worlds medal winner Ian Stannard has finally made the jump to professional racing by joining the Belgian team Landbouwkrediet after three years with the British Cycling Academy. So what?s life like with the big boys? We found out.
Ian Stannard decided to leave the British Cycling under-23 Academy in Italy to turn professional with the Landbouwkrediet team, based in Belgium.
The 20 year old from Chelmsford had to adapt to Flemish weather, racing and bike paths, but his early-season performances earned him a ride in the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix.
CW caught up with the young rider and talked to him about the pros and cons of professional life.
How?s life as a Flemish professional?
IS: So far it?s gone pretty well. It?s been wet and cold compared to what I was used to Italy, but I haven?t been feeling homesick because I?m pretty busy racing, resting and recovering.
I miss being with my girlfriend quite a bit but that?s one of the sacrifices you have to make to be out here. We talk most nights, so I?ve got a big phone bill, but fortunately I?ve got a few days off now, so I?m going home for a bit. When I get back Paul Manning and Ed Clancy will be over, which will make things easier.
Have you started putting mayonnaise on your chips?
IS: I?m trying not to eat many chips and, to be honest, I actually prefer the good British chunky Steakhouse kind of chips, while the Belgian frites are really thin, like MacDonald chips.?
Which British foods are you missing the most?
IS: Well, they don?t have baked beans out here, but fortunately I brought a big out stash with me and so I?ve been having a few backed beans on toast.
What do you do in your spare time?
IS: Life out here is pretty boring to be honest. When I was in Italy with the Academy, we used to go to a bar for a cappuccino and sit outside, but here there?s not such a social scene. I?m sure we?ll have a few barbecues in the summer, but for the moment I?ve been watching a lot of DVDs, getting plenty of sleep in the afternoon and training hard.
Fortunately we?ve got an internet connection and that?s stopped me going mad. I was hoping to see British television via the BBC iPlayer. It doesn?t work outside of the UK.
What is Landbouwkrediet like as a team?
IS: Interesting… I get to do the big races, which is the important thing, because I know that wouldn?t happen if I was with a big ProTour team, but at Landbouwkrediet the riders don?t get looked after as well as in a big set-up. For example, the mechanics didn?t clean the bikes every day when we were at an Italian stage race in February and so I did it myself.
It is a big step-up from under-23 races to something like the Tour of Flanders. Has it been difficult?
IS: At the Academy it?s all about learning to be a better bike rider. With Landbouwkrediet it?s much more result-orientated, and when you race they expect you to turn up in good condition. Some of the riders tease me because I?m more organised and serious ? they can?t get their heads round the idea that it can make a difference. We were taught to look after ourselves and be self sufficient at the Academy and that?s come in pretty useful. I?m the neo-pro but I?m actually a lot more professional than many of my team-mates.
Why did you decide to leave the Academy? Were there any problems?
IS: I wanted to move on and out of it. I wasn?t being held back in Italy but I felt that I was always being monitored and it became a bit too much. It would have been my third year in Italy and so both Rod and Shane Sutton agreed it was better for me to move on so that I could progress as a rider. I was still with them during the winter and Rod?s still helping me out with coaching and advice.
Have you spoken to Mark Cavendish recently?
IS: Yeah, we chatted a lot during the Three Days of De Panne. Cav?s pretty special and it was amazing the way he won two stages coming straight off the track. He speaks his mind before thinking sometimes, but he?s a great person to ride for and a great person to know. When you?re around him you always feel on top of the world.
What are your major objectives for your first year as a professional?
IS: My goal was to ride the cobbled Classics and so it was great to achieve that. I don?t know which other races are on my programme yet. The team keep saying they?ll email me a full programme, but at the moment I just find out week to week what I?m riding.
My aim for the year is to try and be consistently good, get some results and move on to a bigger team at the end of the year. I?d love to ride the road race at the Beijing Olympics. I?ve had all the paperwork through and I?ve got my BOA gold card, which apparently gives me 25 per cent off Rover cars, but I don?t yet know if I?m in the team.
What was it like riding the Tour of Flanders on a Flemish team?
IS: It was an amazing experience. I was really nervous before the start, thinking about the distance and the terrain. And of course it was a big day for the team.
The longest race I?d ever ridden was 230 kilometres in the Tour of Ireland, but the Tour of Flanders actually felt like a 120 kilometres race because we went so fast from the beginning that the climbs seemed a lot shorter.
I was really pleased to finish. The worst moment was when my rear mech went into the spokes and it snapped off. I had to wait five minutes for the team car and got a bike that didn?t really fit me. I chased like crazy to get back on with the team car but when we hit the Paterberg that was it. After that I just got in a big bunch and rode in.
Is it true that you got your own wheels built in England for the Classics?
IS: Yes. Phil Corley from Milton Keynes built them for me and my mum brought them over. They?re Campagnolo Record hubs with Mavic Reflex rims. Other wheels I?ve had from the team were soft, but these were really solid on the cobbles and have stayed true.
Have you got used to riding in the bike lanes?
IS: No, it?s really confusing and I?ve been told off by the police a few times. You have to ride on them by law, but sometimes they seem to head across a field and so I?ve switched back onto the road. A copper saw me and pulled me up once. In Belgium you?re supposed to carry ID all the time but I?m not going to go out with my passport everyday. He let me off a fine because he realised I was a professional.