After winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last weekend, Team Sky's Ian Stannard will take part in Italy's Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico in the coming week. He will race there without the expectation or pressure to win, as he continues his important build-up to the classics.
"Strade Bianche is probably too hard for him, we also don't want to always put the pressure on him," Sky sports director Servais Knaven explained.
"He had pressure in Nieuwsblad and in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, so he will have free role in Italy. To say he can go for the win, is asking too much."
Stannard will race Strade Bianche's white gravel roads leading to Siena on Saturday and then the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race from March 11 to 17. He will support Salvatore Puccio and Peter Kennaugh in the former and Chris Froome in the second.
"He had a big programme so far with Tour Down Under, the Cadel Evans race, Tour of Qatar..." Knaven added. "Of course, riding for Froome in Tirreno, being there and surviving the climbs, is hard, but that's a different pressure than trying to win for yourself."
Three against one and it was a foregone conclusion, surely? Ian Stannard had other ideas when he won Omloop Het
After recovering from a fractured vertebrae and missing half of the 2014 season, Stannard won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for a second consecutive year on Saturday. To do so he had to beat three-to-one odds with Etixx-Quick Step's Niki Terpstra, Tom Boonen and Stijn Vandenbergh with him in the winning move.
"It meant a lot, even if he doesn't show it. He was over the moon. Especially with the way he did it, no one expected him to win. His morale is really good at the moment. This is what he needed after all the problems last year," Knaven said.
"He was still up for Sunday, that was a good sign. Not too many riders can perform on a top level for two days in a row. He has a big engine and can recover very well.
"I don't know how his numbers compared to last year, but look at the way he's racing. In Qatar, especially the time trial in fifth and fourth overall again like last year in GC... He's on a similar level, but his morale is better. His confidence is high and that's what we need. You need to have confidence when you go to the classics."
After Tirreno-Adriatico, Stannard will race Milan-San Remo, E3 Harelbeke, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. He will support leaders like Ben Swift, Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins, but will be one of Sky's other options to win.
"We have to consider the tactics, like we showed Saturday. It's not easy to say who's the leader, but 'G' [Thomas] is really going for Flanders and there's a big chance that he will be our leader, with Ian as some kind of back up. The backup leader will have some kind of protection, as well. It worked well last year," Knaven added.
"In Roubaix it's different, we have Bradley, G, Ian, Luke Rowe, Bernie Eisel... we have a really strong team and everyone can do a good final. We have to make a decision who is going to be the number one leader, and in a race like Roubaix, the number two, three or four can still win the race."
Read Ian Stannard's exclusive column in this week's Cycling Weekly magazine, in which he says his 'fat arse kind of weighs him down'
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