Highlights of the Year – Part III

Three Etixx-Quickstep riders and one Team Sky rider. Of the three riders on the Belgian squad, Tom Boonen has a powerful sprint, Niki Terpstra is a master at riding away late in the race with powerful surprise attack and Stijn Vandenbergh is a strong workhorse and one of the best specialists there is. Only Ian Stannard is about to steal their lunch.

The spring classics are all about tradition and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad race is the familiar start to the classics season. we got the usual comforting scene of Tom Boonen attacking on the Taaienberg. Sep Vanmarcke punctured here in what was to become a new theme of the year with the Belgian classics contender suffering misfortune at the most worst moments. Indeed Vanmarcke looked at ease on the Haaghoek pavé, a sadist dishing it out to everyone only to suffer another puncture. It was just after this on the Leberg climb that Tom Boonen, Stijn Vandenbergh and Niki Terpstra rode away with Ian Stannard for company. There were 40km to go, long but it left the other teams floundering. BMC, Lotto-Jumbo or Lotto-Soudal had to ask whether they could pull back these four strongmen and if they could, would they have spent their energy and get hit on the rebound by a rival team?

Even if the other teams were hesitant the lead four had their work cut out, Stannard was grimacing as he held on over the Molenberg. This effort ensured the gap was maintained as they rode to Gent, a three man rotation with Stannard sat on the back like a giant saddlebag. It’s here that things began to get interesting. The initial question was how were Etixx-Quickstep going to win this?

Workplace politics come to mind. A team has to balance different ambitions of its riders, commercial requirements and more. Could Stijn Vandenbergh get a win to reward a loyal worker or would this start to give him ideas above his station and, worryingly for manager Lefevere, demands for a pay rise? Should Tom Boonen sit tight for the sprint and Niki Terpstra try his trademark late solo attack?

With 4km to go Terpstra jumped but Stannard reeled him back and Boonen countered. But this was the first mistake, Boonen was trying to ride away solo but didn’t have it on the day and he was chased down by Stannard, a clue that Boonen could be beaten.

Stijn Vandenbergh Niki Tersptra

When Niki Terpstra launched his next move Stijn Vandenbergh appeared to chase. One tactical sophistication is what we could call “covering”: when a rider attacks, a team mate ups the pace and drifts off the front, not in pursuit of his colleague but merely so that any rival trying to latch on to the main attack knows they’ll be marked. Lotto-Soudal got this just right when Pim Ligthart won a stage of the Vuelta Andalucia. Another idea is to let Stannard go, should Terpstra and he combine then the Dutchman can softpedal knowing he’s got team mates behind waiting to hit a tired Stannard. That’s the theory anyway and it seemed the practice was different, that Vandenbergh did actually reel in Terpstra.

Look again at the photo and you’ll see Stannard at the back. In other words nobody is marking him. So when Terpstra was neutralised Stannard attacked. Vandenbergh tried to chase but paid for his efforts and cracked and soon Boonen was gone. It was one on one with Tepstra and Stannard, the odds tilting to the Brit “with the build of a docker” as Sporza’s Michel Wuyts once described him. Terpstra led out but this is a cruel finish line that rises slightly and Stannard had the brute force to come past and take the win.

20/20 Hindsight
It’s funny how when it happens in a spring classic it’s thrilling and when it happens in the Giro it’s suspicious, at least if you listen to the birdsong on Twitter. In terms of storytelling seeing Etixx-Quikstep drilling it over the cobbles isn’t going to raise many eyebrows. But they lost and this was a big embarrassment for the team, an obvious way for the Belgian media to pile pressure on the team for snatching defeat out of the wafflemaker of victory. Luckily for them Mark Cavendish delivered the next day in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Stannard’s win was as good as it got for him in the spring classics with DNF in Sanremo and Wevelgem and hovering around 50th place for target races like the Tour of Flanders and Roubaix; he was helping others by then. He’d later prove a useful engine for Team Sky in team time trials and part of Chris Froome’s team for the Tour de France. The Omloop isn’t cursed but because it comes so early any rider dominating in late February could be stale by early April or sometime they let themselves go, convinced the work has been done they might have a beer or dessert when others keep a steely gaze on upcoming races. Team Sky have said they want to try and win all three grand tours next year, something Katusha, Astana, BMC Racing and perhaps Tinkoff-Saxo could aim for too. But what’s missing for Sky is a big classics win, a Monument.

Highlights of 2015 – Part I

Highlights of 2015 – Part II

46 thoughts on “Highlights of the Year – Part III”

    • Yes, likewise. I’ve watched the last km’s several times and it never fails still to delight me. Cosmo’s version is particularly entertaining, soundtrack and all.

      It’s a shame that a Stannard hat-trick next year may not be on. I’ve read that he’s to avoid peaking too early and look for some later Spring form.

  1. It was brilliant by Stannard, but I think Boonen’s ego got the better of him (and he perhaps underestimated Stannard): he tried to attack and ride away to the finish. Even at the time, it was obvious that the other two should have been attacking, tiring out Stannard as he had to defend against these moves, leaving Boonen for the sprint.
    The only option left to Stannard then would be to attack himself – and in the form he was in, it might even have worked.
    I’d have loved to hear the E-QS team meeting about this.

    • No race radios in this JE, and the Etixx boys could not get their **** together.
      Where they even talking ?
      I don’t think Boonen’s ego was necessarily at fault, but Etixx should always have had his final sprint as an option and they failed to do that.
      As Inner Ring said, team politics at play seemingly.
      Both Vandenbergh and Terpstra at fault, I would say.

      • Three very experienced riders who, certainly in this situation, should not need radios: they had plenty of time to discuss it – and I’m guessing Stannard’s Flemish/Dutch isn’t sufficiently up to scratch to follow the conversation.
        SV and NT should have been repeatedly attacking from about 10km to go. That way, Stannard has to chase and tires himself out. Boonen just sits on and waits for the sprint. Then, Stannard’s only option is to attack himself – with three riders, the E-QS guys should have been able to time trial their way back on.
        Stannard was awesome, but to lose a three against one situation is abysmal – and I suspect Lefevere was of a similar point of view.
        Stannard might have just been too strong on the day, but the E-QS tactics employed didn’t test this as they should have.

        • Fine in theory but SV is too alike Stannard though, slower revving big diesel engine which was nearing empty anyway. I’m not sure he had anything left to initiate repeat attacks as you suggested.
          TB and NT had the kicks to jump a gap – SV’s job could have been to mark and draft his second rider.
          And when Stannard countered, could Terpstra have waited just a few seconds to get Boonen back on and double their chances at the line ?

        • Stannard rode a full 2008 season with Landbouwkrediet, a team comprised back then of 90% Belgian riders and even likely even higher % Belgian DSs and support staff. I think its fair to say he knows his way around Flemish in the middle of a race.

      • As a general reminder, they had Stybar, GvA, and Vanmarcke chasing hard a minute or so behind. The next group behind Stybar’s let up and rode in 4 minutes later.

        IMO, Quickstep drove the tempo all the way in, then apparently saved nothing for the finish judging by the way things looked. Not too many choices when your pursuers are a minute behind you.

    • As a general reminder, they had Stybar, GvA, and Vanmarcke chasing hard a minute or so behind. The next group behind Stybar’s let up and rode in 4 minutes later.

      IMO, Quickstep drove the tempo all the way in, then apparently saved nothing for the finish judging by the way things looked. Not too many choices when your pursuers are a minute behind you.

      • True – but out of that lot, you’d still expect Boonen to win; although far from a given (and Boonen should have been doing less work – E-QS didn’t need to push quite as much as they did).
        Maybe 10k out would have been too early to start the attacks – although they could have started earlier than they did. Also, if they are attacking, they can still be riding quickly – I’m not suggesting they should have played cat and mouse.
        However, it’s more about how E-QS attacked, as I say above, rather than when.
        It’s 3 on 1, you know what you should be doing – if I knew, those 3 definitely knew (and even the Eurosport commentators said it – when Boonen attacked – from memory).

        • Agreed J Evans – OPQS / E-QS / Mapei should’ve won that. What were they thinking? It should’ve been a pretty standard finish. They made so many mistakes, and Stannard was perfect.

          First of all, why did Quickstep do all the work??? It was more in Stannard’s favour to break away from the chasing pack. If the chasers caught on, then Stannard had a 1/8 chance to win, instead of 1/4 AND he wouldn’t ahve been the fastest in a sprint so he definitely didn’t want a group of 8 going to the line. Quickstep should’ve worked, but not as hard as they did. If the chasers came back, then Boonen was the favourite to win from that group, and they still could’ve played their games with Terpstra and Stybar attacking from a group of 8 (instead of 4).

          I think SV was trying to make a big impression in this race, but he really just overcooked himself and made some big mistakes. He definitely pulled his teammate back once and instead he should have soft pedaled, making Stannard do all the work at that point.

          Stannard rode perfectly, waiting it out, letting the other guys cook themselves and then going with the right move. It was perfect.

          Ian Stannard rode tactically perfect. He sat on and waited for his competitor to make mistakes, then when they appeared to have little left in the tank he made a move.

        • E-QS didn’t need to push quite as much as they did

          No. This is classic Monday morning revision. You have a small group of legitimate podium threats less than a minute back and imperfect information about your pursuers, and potential to sweep the podium. The only choice is to ride like the devil is trying to grab your heel and hope for the best.

          The way the race worked out is exactly why race radios need to be banned at the highest level. The same race with race radios would not have had such a dramatic ending.

          • No, it isn’t. I was saying it at the time. And even the commentators were. And the absence of race radios had nothing to do with the bad tactical choices made – those 3 riders are very experienced and certainly have a great deal more knowledge than I do.
            As David says above, if the others catch, E-QS still have 4 riders from 8 – Stannard needed to work: E-QS didn’t make him. Maybe E-QS didn’t know who was behind – that’s the only difference radios might (maybe they were told by the bike) have made – but they knew they had 3 and that one of them was Boonen.

    • I think Boonen was to anxious and nervous that, finally, he would take an Omloop that is missing from his wins. Quickstep let Stannard sit on for 40 kms and they were riding very hard. VanMarcke and GVA were just behind putting on pressure. At the Final, the 3 guys just really lost all tactical sense. Good race though.

      • Indeed. I think INRNG is saying that when Astana dominate in the Giro, tearing the peloton to shreds on undulating stages, the Twitterati (and the Secret Pro) shout “dopers!”. Yet when Etixx do the same year after year on the cobbles, the same accusations are not made.

  2. Stannard was brilliant, simply outstanding. 10 kms from the finish I was feeling a little sorry for him, as he seemingly faced impossible odds. That he managed to deal with those odds one after another in such a decisive manner says much not only for his physical strength, but also his tactical nous. An exciting finish. Here’s hoping he peaks a month later next year.

    • Here’s to that. He doesn’t favour his chances too much for Flanders (I think his quote was ‘too many climbs to haul my big a$$ up:)) – but P-R in a 2-pronged attack with Rowe? What not…

      • Oh yeah! Stannard and Luke Rowe and maybe even Geraint taking on PR would be sick. I really hope Geraint uses the Classics to build form again. Last year was awesome watching him race in the spring.

        In my mind he’ll never win a GT, so should embrace his role as a serious classics threat and then super domestique. That was George Hincapie’s role and it led to a good long career.

        • I would prefer Thomas built form FOR the Classics. I understand why any rider would dream of GC glory in a Grand Tour, but while he’s a brilliantly versatile rider, he’s never going to be as good in the high Alps as he is in the wind, filth and pave of the Classics. Really think he could have a devastatingly productive Classics campaign next year if he just accepted that fact.

          • Thomas interviewed on the latest Cycling Podcast and said that he doesn’t want to miss RVV but may go straight into that from his stage races (P-N etc like last year).
            Would expect him to then stay with classics team for Roubaix in a support role before joining Froome for the full tour build up.
            If he does well at the Tour I suppose this could be his last tilt at any classics. Would be a shame though.
            Back on topic absolutely loved this race. Have always been a fan of Stannard and hope he can pull off a big one soon. Deserves credit for the work he does throughout the season if nothing else.

          • Sky don’t seem to be very good at standing up to their riders – or not the British ones anyway. But maybe they know something about Thomas’s climbing abilities that we don’t (although I completely agree with you).

  3. That Stijn Vandenbergh is a perplexing fellow. He’s got a massive engine, but there have a few times where his tactics have been off-base. There was another spring classic where he was driving the pace while a teammate was trying to get back onto the bunch. Anybody remember this? Was it E3, or G-W?

    • Remember him with Paolini in OHN in 2013? Did all the work, gave Paolini a lovely armchair ride and A LOT of shelter in his wheels. Then surprise surprise, a nicely-rested Paolini creamed him in the sprint. Vandenbergh is strong of body, but his racing acumen…not so much…

    • I know it’s over-interpreting a still photo, massively facile, not related to the racing (which was excellent) etc etc… But to me it reads: Terpstra [bu&&er, that would have been nice on my palmares / earned me a bit more on contract renewal, but never mind, I took PR last year]. Boonen [am I bothered, I’m Tom Boonen, what’s OHN anyway?, by the way had I mentioned I’m Tom Boonen. God I’m pretty. Yes, it’s me, Tom Boonen]. Stannard [f*$k YESSS, I bl00dy did it!!!!!! 3 against 1 and I bl00dy did it!!!!!!!]

        • haha, yeah that’s hilarious. To continue Stannard’s face [This is awesome!! Best day ever!! Everyone is so happy that I won!! These guys are happy for me too!!! Oh, hey they should be smiling…. meh, they’re smiling on the inside!! I’m going to keep hugging them and take them out on the town to celebrate! Best day ever!!!!!]

  4. I’m delighted that the name of which race this was is not mentioned! Until the final paragraph the word ‘Omloop’ pops up…

    Thanks INRNG – this was a nail-biting finish.

  5. Nicely done! Both you and Stannard. While I’m someone who is certainly NOT a fan of SKY, this was a great race to watch, I couldn’t help thinking it was Etixx’ race to lose and wondering how they’d manage it. The classics juggernaught keeling over vs the lone Stannard was great bike racing on TV!

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed this race!

    Having watched them go by on the Molenberg, I scooted off on my Brompton (!) to a nearby bar to watch the conclusion with a group of thoroughly unimpressed Boonen-supporting Belgians. I was the only cheering Stannard home!

    • In 2004 I met a bunch of Belgians with Museeuw flags just as I arrived late to the velodrome at Roubaix having followed the race from Compiegne and seen it about 8 times. I was supporting Backstedt and they were most miffed that a big Swede, now honorary Welshman, had won and their bet had been trounced, albeit aided by an untimely puncture, and come in behind the first 4.

  7. Now that race was a proper race for all to see, no hiding in a group of 3 on 1. Should go down in the text books as a great tactical 1 on 3 win. Great job Stannard.

    Great choice Inrng

  8. …and we had role reversal in the British National Championship…..Cavendish (EQS) chasing down Kennaugh, Stannard, both Sky…..whilst dragging Luke Rowe (Sky) with him…catching them and then riding Stannard and Rowe off his wheel. Sadly it wasn’t the fairytale finish..as the Kennaugh pipped Cavendish at the last climb of the day. Put Cavendish showed he is not just a sprinter….another great race…..

  9. Agree that was the best race finish of the season. For me it wasn’t so much that Stannard was able to win but that the three Etixx riders were able to lose it somehow. And I recall that a week later in a non-classic race two team mates from pro conti level Wanty Group-Gobert were able to pull off the win in text book style in a 2-up finish from a three man break. Lefevre must have been eating his hat!

  10. i love the photo of vandenberg with no gloves and rolled down arm warmers in February, at that point in the year i’m still wearing my ski gloves haha

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