British national road race champion Ian Stannard believes he can win a cobblestone Classic and has his best opportunity yet to achieve that at tomorrow's Paris-Roubaix.
The 25-year-old has faith in himself and his Sky team ahead of the 254.5km spectacle that marks the end of a five-month project the squad has sacrificed for since pre-season.
"I don't know about Sunday. I do believe if things go right I can really perform. I could definitely get on the podium," Stannard told Cycling Weekly from his Kortrijk hotel yesterday.
Sky has previously dedicated most of its resources to Juan Antonio Flecha, who transferred to Vacansoleil-DCM this season. The Spaniard's departure has provided more leadership opportunities within the Classics squad and Stannard is hopeful of capitalising on that in the near future, and maybe even this weekend.
"Things don't happen straightaway," he continued. "Okay, I really enjoy this race, and you go to every race to win I guess, but I've always been working for the team. Hopefully this year I'll get a bit more freedom and really show what I can do, and in the next years definitely be there as the favourite to win it. I'd love that."
Paris-Roubaix demands the utmost concentration and the course, which includes 27 cobble sections totaling 52.6km of the distance, can take a physical toll riders still feel a week after the event.
Edvald Boasson Hagen and sports director Servais Knaven, who won Roubaix in 2001, also attended an informal team press conference yesterday but were typically vague on leadership ahead of a group meeting tonight. Stannard will surely be pushing for a protected role in that.
"I think we've just got to get across Arenberg forest and see who is in that front group and then we can start making some calls," he said.
A perceived lack of in-house communication cost Sky this time last year and will be an important factor tomorrow, as will staying ahead of outright favourite and Tour of Flanders champion Fabian Cancellara [RadioShack-Leopard].
Cancellara crashed at Scheldeprijs and then again during course reconnaissance here Thursday suffering minor abrasions in both incidences. The 2010 winner is hopeful his bad luck is over and, motivated after missing last year's Hell of the North due to injury, will be heavily marked - even more so with defending champion Tom Boonen [Omega Pharma-QuickStep] out.
"It's kind of a positive for the rest of us I guess," Stannard joked of Cancellara's misfortune.
"I'm sure every other team manager has sat out there and thought, brilliant, he's crashed twice, stinted his morale a little bit! It takes something out of you crashing twice like that, especially on the cobblestones. It's not nice to say, but this may be the only chance we get to beat him at the moment."
Sky key players Stannard, Bernhard Eisel and Mathew Hayman appear to have recovered from respective illnesses that partly hurt the outfit's Tour of Flanders campaign last week. Morale clearly took a hit from the disappointing show in Belgium but the group has bounced back ahead of what is its last opportunity to post a one-day result this year.
Stannard has also taken confidence from a strong ride at Milan-San Remo last month where he and Sylvain Chavanel [Omega Pharma-QuickStep] looked set to fight out line honours before a chase group, including Cancellara, caught the duo on the Poggio descent.
"I've always believed in myself and I've always believed that I could really perform in [Paris-Roubaix]. It's nice to be lining up this weekend with one of the strongest teams and looking to perform in this race as well," he said.
"We've been given everything we need to perform and it's down to us now. We've got specific bikes for the job, the best tyres out there and choice of equipment. Whatever we need we can have it to perform."
Sky management asked its Classics squad to buy into an unprecedented approach to the spring, which has seen it clock five to six hour training rides in December, increase course reconnaissance hours and replace some stage races with training camps in Majorca, Spain and at altitude. Management is set to analyse the effectiveness of the approach after Roubaix. Stannard says he hasn't had time to go out and, like the rest of the squad, has had limited stays at home. However, he has responded well to the sports science reliant tact.
"The team's put in a lot of effort so we haven't wanted to let them down. We've been really on it and not messed about," he said.
"I haven't been home for more than four nights in my own bed since December."
Sky went against the grain when it substituted Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico for a training camp, which at this point in the season Stannard sees as an advantage.
"You talk to the guys who have ridden Paris-Nice, Tirreno and have been racing in all this rain and they're all a bit nailed and looking forward to a little break coming up," he explained. "Whereas we're all still quite fresh mentally and every race we go to is like a new race, if that makes sense."
Sky's new Classics orientation is in its infancy and failure to post a result tomorrow won't necessarily mean a failed campaign. However an achievement, according to Stannard, is possible.
"The team obviously would like us to perform but at the end of the day they know it's the first time they've put this together and really gone for the Classics. It took a few years for the Tour team and it could take a few years here," he said. "Hopefully not."
Paris-Roubaix 2013: Who will win?
Paris-Roubaix 2013: The Big Preview
Paris-Roubaix 2013: Start list
Ian Stannard: Rider profile
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