Feature: Stannard - Taking on Flanders and Roubaix aged 20

Tue 16 Apr 2019

20-year-old Rob Stannard has had an unexpected fast-track start to his professional career with three monuments already under his belt in his first full season as a neo-pro.

Having only stepped up to the pro-peloton in October 2018, when he joined the Australian WorldTour team, the rider from Sydney has already ticked off a trio of huge and iconic races -  Milan San-Remo, Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix - a feat which most neo-pros can only dream of.

With a late call up for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, after the team saw Luke Durbridge and Alex Edmondson sidelined with injury, Stannard stepped up to the challenge, exceeding all expectation with solid performances in both races, despite no real knowledge or specific preparation.

The unique opportunity

As one of the youngest riders in both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Stannard was inexperienced but got to work like any other race, grabbing the opportunity with both hands.

Rob Stannard - “I wasn’t down for any of the monuments at the start of the year, it wasn’t something I expected to do in my first year, but as soon as sport director Matt White called me and said I was racing Flanders I was super keen. It is not the kind of race you turn down and it is pretty special to be able to race this in my first season and in a WorldTour team.

“Going into 2019 I was just keen to do any race. It was pretty special to get to do even one monument. I didn’t expect to do these races one year ago, or even when I got my calendar last November.

“Flanders and Roubaix are races I want to do well at in the future, whether they suit me or not, so to have done them already now and get all the experience is just amazing. Even next year if I raced again as a second year pro, I would still probably be one of the youngest in the race."

New to cobbles

Having only ever ridden on cobblestones a handful of times, once during the U23 Flanders and a few recon sessions this season, it has been phenomenal to see Stannard’s ability to adapt with his promising performances in both Classics.

Despite the challenging distance, racing over 250kilometres, Stannard was there in the mix at crucial moments of the Tour of Flanders, supporting the team’s leader Matteo Trentin and on Sunday, in his debut of Paris-Roubaix, the 20-year-old made it into the velodrome. Surviving all of the brutal cobble sectors throughout the ‘Hell of the North’ he went on to finish in very respectable 69th place, having also suffered a crash early on which lost him some valuable time.

Rob Stannard - “Having done these races now, and not done terribly, like in Flanders I didn’t finish but I was always there, I think it means that hopefully in the future I could be one of the riders to be selected to do them again.

“I had really good legs yesterday. I crashed just on a corner with a big pile of gravel. My legs felt really good at that point and I would have stayed in that group for sure, until at least the section before the Arenberg or even into Arenberg. Then after that I don’t know what would have happened.

"This gives me a lot of motivation, I know what I should be able to do and can do in the future. I love this type of racing, not that it necessarily suits me the most but I just love technical races, always something happening, always on, just hard days.”

The hype of the monuments

Having just stepped up from under-23 racing, most WorldTour events are another level for Stannard in all aspects, but Flanders and Roubaix are something beyond the norm.

Rob Stannard - “Flanders was the biggest crowds I have ever seen. I think it was the same in Roubaix but you don’t notice because you’re just suffering over the cobbles, trying to pick the smoothest line. On the climbs in Flanders you slow down a bit and you have a little bit of time to notice what is going on around you.

“They are completely different races, in terms of the spectators, the race atmosphere, even the day before at the team presentation and then with Roubaix finishing in the velodrome, it is just another level. I didn’t know what I was going into so I didn’t feel pressure going into the races, just a little pressure from myself as of course I wanted to do well.”

Steep learning curve

With one Paris-Roubaix completed at just 20-years of age, there a lot of things still to learn. It took Mat Hayman 14 times to get things right, so things are looking promising for the young Mitchelton-SCOTT rider.

Rob Stannard - “I’ve done four Belgian Classics now and the amount I have learnt from these Classics has been worth so much. Going to these races, it has not just been doing the races that has been important but all the things around it like going to the hotel the week before, riding the climbs and cobble sections, actually learning how to ride on cobbles. It shows what you need to do, what it takes to be successful in these races.

“It was just really helpful being around these experienced guys, they all know so much, especially having Mat Hayman there and in the car helping to focus on what you really need to do.

“I liked to give Flanders and Roubaix a go again, maybe within the next 14 or 15 years.”

Robert Stannard

Date of Birth: 16th September 1998 (20)
Nationality: Australian
Place of Birth: Sydney, New South Wales
Joined Mitchelton-SCOTT: 2018 (October)

Top 20 results so far in 2019:

-       1st Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali - Stage 1 TTT
-       5th Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali - Stage 1 A
-       5th Herald Sun Tour - Stage 1
-       10th Herald Sun Tour - Stage 2
-       12th Herald Sun Tour - Stage 3

Photo courtesy of Kramon