Motivation has been a key component of Stannard’s 2018 campaign, which has undergone many changes up to and including the Amgen Tour of California that teammate Egan Bernal leads again after winning today’s penultimate sixth stage at South Lake Tahoe.
Stannard’s race preparation for the spring classics typically starts in January. For five consecutive years he opened his season at the Tour Down Under, but skipped the long-haul flight for a team training camp and series of Spanish races this season.
“I was gutted to miss Tour Down Under, it’s always nice to go out there and train in the good weather, but it’s nice to do something different for the head as well,” said Stannard. “Aiming for something different gives you that little bit of motivation.”
The 30-year-old, in another change of pace, has spent more time racing over training this year, and is competing in California over a Tenerife training camp he underwent in 2017.
“Again, it’s just something different. It’s nice to race your bike. I lost that the last few years so am getting out there and just enjoying racing,” he said.
Stannard has been a staple of Sky’s classics squad for many years and the cobbles are, maybe next to the Tour de France, the pinnacle of his season. He won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2014 and then famously in 2015 outplayed three Etixx-Quick-Step riders, including Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh, to defend his title.
The Englishman has also featured at Paris-Roubaix, finishing third behind Australian Mathew Hayman and Boonen in 2016.
How, if at all, the motivation-based race schedule adjustments influenced his campaign this year is hard to tell. Stannard struggled with illness and missed the first two weeks, making his debut at Gent-Wevelgem, which he finished 90th. He was 79th at Dwars door Vlaanderen and then a DNF at both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
“You go there and want to win or get a good result; It’s pretty hard to do in a one-day race, but everything was there and it was alright. Average,” he said. “Looking back, maybe I got a bit too excited in November and December, trained too hard and then paid for it a fraction when we came into the classics. But I’d do the same again.”
Stannard returned to racing at the Tour de Yorkshire and continues to find a rhythm in California, setting diesel-like tempo for rookie pro sensation Bernal.
“You go all in for them [spring classics], train super hard for that and then have a bit of a break. It’s quite hard to get back on the bike and get fit again,” he said.
Stannard was omitted from Sky’s Tour de France squad last season for the first time since 2014, reportedly due to illness. The UK-based father of two would surely be valuable to the squad and Chris Froome’s potential title defence in July, no less because the course this year features cobbles.
“We’ll see. I hope [to be there] but you never know until you’re on that start line. We’ve got a lot of strong guys on the team,” he said.
In the meantime, there is California where Stannard is making another adjustment as the oldest man on the squad here. Stannard, Luke Rowe and even Sebastian Henao have found themselves guiding the talented members of Sky’s so-called ‘Generation 2.0’.
“It’s strange, I was always the youngest and all of a sudden you’re the oldest," said Stannard. "It’s nice to see Tao [Geoghegan Hart] did a really good time trial [third on stage four].
"The way Egan was climbing, how motivated he is to race and perform is really good. When you’re in the mix of it you don’t really realise but I guess, when you actually look at it, they’re the younger generation and it’s good to see them racing well.”
With Bernal's Stage 6 victory, Sky has all but won the Tour of California with tomorrow’s final sprint stage in Sacramento not likely to impact the general classification.
Coverage of the Tour of California continues for the final stage of the Mens and Womens events from 5.00 AM AEST on Sunday 20 May.