Ian Stannard (Team Sky) sprang a surprise at Het Nieuwsblad, escaping with three Etixx-QuickStep riders then beating them all at the finish in Ghent to successfully defend his title.
It was a victory against the odds, but the British rider said afterwards that the circumstances suited him. With a strong chasing group at 20 to 30 seconds for much of the final 30km, it meant the three Etixx riders – Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh – had to keep riding hard rather than attacking Stannard.
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It was initially a five-man group that went clear on one of the final cobbled sections, with 43km left, but Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) punctured and was swept up by the chasers. Stannard was then able to sit on the Etixx train, but, with Vanmarcke in particular driving a three-man chasing group, they never had enough of an advantage to, in Stannard’s words, “start playing games.”
Graham Watson was on hand to record Ian Stannard's mighty win in the 2015 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Stannard said: “I was a little bit worried about it because I thought they were going to attack me pretty hard but the group was only 20 seconds behind so they couldn’t play too much and I could play poker at the back.
“Tom tried to attack me [with 5km to go] and I rode back up. When you ride up to a guy like that you know your legs are pretty good. I went over the top of him, then Niki came up to me, and I was aware Tom was just behind. Niki went a bit early in the sprint and shielded me from the wind a bit and I just had to grit my teeth.”
Stannard squeezed past Terpstra for a a narrow win, with the three Etixx riders second, third and fourth. It was an embarrassing outcome for the Belgian super team, but Stannard sympathised. “It’s a hard situation: there are guys chasing behind, so they had to ride hard. If the gap was a minute they could have played it more. I don’t know what else they could have done, but it played into my hands nicely.”
Stannard’s sports director, Servais Knaven, said that he had told Stannard to work if the chase group – which included another Etixx rider, Zdenek Stybar – got any closer. “The first concern was the chase group,” said Knaven. “I told him if they get closer you have to work because we have no one else behind. Then you’ll just have to go for the podium.”
But as Stannard said, it played into his hands. And 12 months after his breakthrough his win here – during which he suffered a broken back after a crash at Ghent-Wevelgem that saw him off the bike for three months – he was relieved to confirm that he is back to full fitness. “For myself I really wanted to do well in this race and show I was back at my old level,” said Stannard.