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Out-numbered three-to-one by a trio of the world’s most experienced Classics riders, Ian Stannard (Sky) pulled off the seemingly impossible in last year’s edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Stannard rode himself in a lead group with Etixx-QuickStep trio Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh in the final 40km of the opening cobbled classic of the 2015 season. That in itself was a remarkable feat, as Stannard was defending champion and had been a heavily marked man throughout the race.

As Boonen, Terpstra and Vandenbergh tried to wear down Stannard by setting a fast pace and launching attacks, the Essex man reacted to every move. It was the Etixx riders’ tactic to wear down Stannard so that he would not be able to contest a sprint finish.

That back-fired miserably for the Belgian team. Stannard had kept enough in his not inconsiderable tank to launch his own attack within the final 3km. Only Terpstra had the energy to ride back up to Stannard’s wheel as Boonen and Vandenbergh visibly struggled.

>>> The inside story of Ian Stannard’s incredible Het Nieuwsblad win

As the two lead riders headed towards the line, Terpstra made the grave tactical error of starting to sprint too early, and found himself in front of Stannard. All the Brit had to do was sit in, then sprint around the 2014 Paris-Roubaix champion and take a landmark victory.

Needless to say, Etixx-QuickStep team boss Patrick Lefevre was ‘disappointed’ at witnessing his star riders get overhauled in such a convincing fashion on home soil. He initially grumbled that Stannard has simply sat in behind his riders and contributed little work… but that did nothing to explain why such experienced men had made a series of errors.

The 2016 edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad takes place on Saturday, February 27, and Stannard will not be present as he aims for Paris-Roubaix later in the spring. Perhaps Etixx-QuickStep will have more luck this time.