For Ian Stannard, Classics Opening Weekend is one of the best of the season.
A two-time winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Stannard relishes racing on the cobbles and is hoping to start his Classics campaign strongly.
He will co-lead our charge alongside Dutchman Dylan van Baarle at both Omloop and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, raced on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
“I started in Valencia and Algarve but it’s nothing like being in Belgium and racing here,” he said. ”The fans are awesome - even on the plane over last night there were Belgian fans asking me questions about the race. It’s exciting to be here. I can’t wait.
“I love racing here. There’s no messing around, no worrying about how you are going to play one day to the next, it’s just bam! Get stuck in. Have fun. You can hear the great crowds, smell the barbecues they’re having, they're all having a beer on the side of the road… the whole thing is fun, there’s a real buzz about it. Just being in Belgium is great.”
This year’s Nieuwsblad route is a little different to the one Stannard won back-to-back on, in 2014 and ’15.
Yet the roads are similar and, now 31, Stannard hopes to put that experience to good use.
“Obviously I haven’t raced the new route. It’s a bit of an unknown tomorrow, but generally over the years you start to learn the roads and where you’re going. You pick up little reference points as you’re racing, and I try to help the younger guys with that, like [Owain] Doull and [Chris] Lawless.
“I remember racing with Bernie [Eisel], Mat Hayman, Jez Hunt, all those guys, and they passed on their knowledge to me: what to look out for, where to be, and it’s right to pass that on. It helps us all as a group and a team to get better.”
In terms of his own form, Stannard is hopeful.
“You do all these stage races and you get a feel for where you are but you don’t really know until you go for it in a one-day race and put it all on the line. I’ve done some good training, I’m feeling really good, really strong, but won’t know until tomorrow night! Hopefully it will go well and I’m at where I think I’m at.”