Robert Stannard of Team Skoda Racing stands on the brink of overall victory in the New Zealand Cycle Classic; and if successful it would nothing short of a fairytale return to the team that played such a big part in his career through his junior years. We took the chance to catch up with him before today’s final stage.
RC: First of all Robert congratulations on today, a terrific result for you and Team Skoda Racing, the best young rider but most importantly on the verge of the overall win in the NZCC. How does it feel to be on the verge of victory in what was your home for so long?
Robert: It feels great to be in yellow for tomorrow but I know I can’t relax yet. It will be a really hard stage tomorrow so right now I’m just focusing on that.
RC: It must be the ideal welcome back to New Zealand and to Team Skoda Racing. What’s it been like being back with the team that was such a big part of your junior cycling?
Robert: I’m really grateful Skoda gave me a chance to race with their team, I wouldn’t have been able to race if they hadn’t come forward because I only decided to race this tour last week.
RC: Tell us about the climb up Admiral Hill. You’ve won here before in the Trust House Series but what caused so many riders to be in such strong contention up the climb this time around?
Robert: Yeah I’ve won a couple of other races up the Admiral Hill finish in the last few years so I know the climb well. This year the NZ national team had 3 riders and they essentially controlled the race from bottom to top.
RC: Talk us through that climb up the Hill. How did it pan out and how did you approach it tactically?
Robert: There were a few attacks by other riders but [the NZ National Team] set the pace and the rest of us just held on to the finish, where it was a sprint. Usually a smaller group would make it to the finish at the front but I don’t think the climb was ridden hard enough.
RC: Tell us about your first season with the Mitchelton Scott Continental Team. What’s changed for you as a rider in 12 months?
Robert: The past year for me has been incredible. I’ve had some solid results overseas and invaluable experience in Europe where I was for most of the year.
RC: Looking beyond the Cycle Classic what are you targeting in 2018?
Robert: I’m with the same team (Mitchelton Bike Exchange) this year and hopefully I can recreate and build on some of the success I had in 2017. I’m doing the Gravel and Tar Classic next week looking to defend my title and then I have a couple more races overseas before heading to Europe until October. I’d like to target the Tour de l’Avenir as my major race of the season.