After his sixth place in Milan-San Remo last weekend, Ian Stannard (Team Sky) once again showed his Classics form at the Dwars Door Vlaanderen in Belgium today.
The British champion took ninth place behind winner Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini) in Waregem after leading the chase group into the home straight in an attempt to catch escapee Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and set-up team mate Mat Hayman for a sprint.
Hayman eventually took third place after Voeckler was caught within yards of the line. Vacansoleil's Borut Bozic (Astana) claimed second.
Stannard's show of strength bodes well ahead of the E3 Grand Prix on Friday, Ghent- Wevelgem on Sunday, then the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix on the subsequent two weekends. Today's race featured many of the key Flemish cobbled climbs including Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg which comprise the finale in the Tour of Flanders.
If Stannard needs to refine anything it's probably his attacks which failed to gain much in the way of daylight on the rest of the lead group. Not that there was much daylight to be seen on what was a gloomy, grey day in Beneluxe.
A key animator, Stannard's first bid for glory with around 6km to go was almost immediately pounced upon by his nine fellow breakaways. It was with characteristic textbook timing that Voeckler then countered his move, launching free just as the rest of the group eased up.
The French darling's attack immediately gained the best part of ten seconds which he stretched to 17 at the 3km to go point. Despite Sky, Omega Pharma and Astana each having two riders in the chase, the group made little inroads until Stannard launched another move directly under the red kilometre kite (a tactic Bradley Wiggins replicated half an hour later in the Tour of Catalonia).
Once again, Stannard's rivals were straight on him, so he committed to reeling back Voeckler and leaving the rest up to Hayman.
It was perhaps a tall ask of the Australian who had been in the main 14 man early break, eventually setting free on his own in the final 50km before one, two and then seven more chasers bridged up to him from the main peloton.
Amongst the latter were Gatto, Bozic, Stannard and Voeckler.
Read Ian Stannard's view on his Milan-San Remo ride in this week's Cycling Weekly, out Thursday March 21
Dwars Door Vlaanderen, 201km
1. Oscar Gatto (Italy) Vini Fantini-Selle Italia in 4:43:22
2. Boryt Bozic (Slo) Astana
3. Matthew Hayman (Aus) Sky
4. Mirko Selvaggi (Italy) Vacansoleil-DCM
5. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar
6. Nikolas Maes (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)
7. Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge
8. Maxim Iglinsky (GBr) Astana all same time
9. Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky at 4 seconds
10. Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Omega Pharma- Quick Step) at 24 seconds
19. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 1:20
36. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky at 2:21
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