Some riders may be fearful of bad weather during Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, but Briton Ian Stannard isn't one of them
Stannard is leading team Sky alongside Luke Rowe, with Geraint Thomas back to stage races and Michal Kwiatkowski aiming at the Amstel Gold Race next Sunday.
He reconnoitred the key cobble sectors that make up the 257.5-kilometre course in northern France on Tuesday. Luke Rowe and others are doing so today.
“I didn’t find the recon too bad, the mud in between the cobbles was bad, but the top of the cobbles was fine,” Stannard told Cycling Weekly.
“If it rains, it’s going to be a mess. I like those conditions, and the colder the better, as well. A dry Roubaix is probably nicer to race, but a wet one is better for my riding characteristics.”
In recent years teams have found dry and dusty cobble sectors. Not since 2002, 14 years ago, did they have to navigate wet and muddy cobbles. That year, Johan Museeuw won his third title and Tom Boonen, then racing for US Postal Service, marked himself as a future winner by placing third.
Over the border, Belgium enjoyed one of its warmest days in recent weeks on Sunday for its Tour of Flanders. However, the mercury dropped over the last two days and rain clouds constantly circle over the flat farmlands.
Regardless of the weather, Sky appears to be edging closer to a win in one of cycling’s monuments. Ben Swift placed second behind Arnaud Démare (FDJ) in Milan-San Remo three weeks ago and Rowe rode to fifth in the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
“The confidence is building in the team, individually as well,” Stannard said. “We are still going in a great direction.”
Kwiatkowski gave the team a second win in the E3 Harelbeke two weeks ago and drew out eventual Flanders winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) with an attack. He is backing off to return in the Amstel Gold Race, which he won last year as world champion. He leaves the door open for Stannard and Rowe to start Roubaix as defined co-leaders.
General Manager David Brailsford said: “In the past, we had a strong group who all think that maybe they have a chance, so you lack that real clarity of who’s going to give what for whom. Now, it’s a lot clearer in the roles and who’s doing what.”
“It’s down to me and Luke, and we are both looking forward to it,” Stannard continued.
“We have two more defined leaders, rather than four or five of us all trying to get into the final and then race. E3 really showed that, we kind of missed it on the Taaienberg and Luke and [Salvatore] Puccio got straight on the front and did what they needed to do, there was no hanging around. There was a clear decision, and that comes from knowing who your leaders are.”