Ian Stannard. AKA Yogi Bear. In pro cycling terms a heavyweight at 6ft 2 and 83 kilos. Hard as nails but cuddly as a teddy bear.
His status as one of the strong men of pro-cycling is in his DNA. As confirmed by www.ancestry.co.uk who, if their uncannily accurate assessment of Stannard is anything to go by, have their finger on the pulse (or should that be the heart rate?) of British cycling.
Stannard: English (East Anglia), from the Middle English personal name Stanhard (Old English Stanheard), composed of the elements stan (stone) and heard (hardy, brave, strong).
Along with being big, strong, and cuddly, there are two other things that Ian Stannard is particularly good at.
Firstly, he’s good at setting a scorching pace during the flat and rolling phase of a Tour de France stage. He strings out the peloton behind him, who probably curse and swear as any prospect of a gentle day on the bike disappears up the road, before delivering Chris Froome into prime position at the bottom of the day’s big mountain climb.
Froome then takes over, and Stannard leaves him to the business of winning the world’s biggest bike race.
To do this well involves riding yourself to a standstill in the service of the man who will then go on to take the glory, the acclaim, and the big bottle of champagne on the podium. You also have to somehow the find the energy to ride up that big mountain climb yourself. To coin the ultimate pro cycling cliché: it’s brutal.
Fortunately, I’m led to believe Team Sky pay fairly well for this kind of thing.
The second thing he’s very good at is beating Belgium single handedly, as illustrated perfectly by @GreyPea:
Back in 2015 he took the start line at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Belgian one-day semi-classic, as defending champion and Team Sky’s best chance of success for the day. He crossed the finish line 200 kilometres later having beaten the best weather, terrain, and cyclists that Belgium has to offer.
It’s fair to say that in the last couple of kilometres, once the field had been whittled down by the wintry conditions and the cobbled roads, he was the underdog in a four horse race. Outnumbered three to one by Ettix-Quick Step teammates Tom Boonen, Stijn Vandenbergh and Niki Terpstra, Stannard couldn’t win.
Except that he won, implausibly, and caused the Belgian cycling press to combust with disbelief at the cheek of it all.
I bet he enjoyed that. Particularly considering his previous appearance in a Belgian classic, at Ghent-Wevelgem in 2014, where things had gone ever so slightly less well.
Incidentally, later on in 2015 I’m pretty sure he rode past me. As I dragged myself up and over the Cross o’ Greet – a wild and exposed climb here in Lancashire – a big bear of a man flew past in the opposite direction, quickly, and clad in British Cycling kit. I seem to remember reading in the cycling press at the time that he was training up here in the north.
Admittedly, he went by in a blur, and it could just have been some other quick lad in the national kit, but there were also three other cyclists trailing fifty metres in his wake. Could that have been Boonen, Vandenburgh and Terpstra still trying to catch Stannard and regain their self-respect?
And what about the car following them?
Was that a Belgian journalist penning further scathing reports about his nation’s most prestigious cycling team?