Victory in the final stage individual time trial propelled New Zealand’s favourite Aussie cyclist, Robert Stannard, to the GC podium of the U23 Giro d’Italia at the weekend! Stannard started the final stage in 7th place overall, but a fantastic display against the clock saw him leap up the standings to 3rd place when it mattered most.
Since stage 4 of the Giro Ciclistico d’Italia, Robert Stannard of Mitchelton-BikeExchange has steadily been progressing up the general classification. 8th in stage 5 saw him leap up to 24th, 2nd in stage 6 saw him climb further to just shy of the top ten, and then 6th in stage 7 – backed up with 5th in stage 8 – saw him sit 7th overall. There was still plenty of work to do, with a spot on the podium a full 1.50mins away; but Stannard and Mitchelton-BikeExchange went to work giving him every possibility of a famous podium finale.
The day proved to be a topsy turvy one from the start as the first stage of the final day saw second placed Aleksandr Vlasov of Gazprom-Rusvelo overtake Alejandro Osorio of GW-Shimano to hold the lead, with Mark Donovan of Team Wiggins second and SEG Racing Academy’s Stephen Williams leaping from 6th to third. The shuffle in the general classification had no bearing on Stannard’s position and he still held 7th, but the time gap to the podium was now a much more reachable 53 seconds going into the final time trial.
Up ahead of the field in the final stage of this year’s race was a 22.4km course from Il Muro di ca del Poggio to Ca del Poggio. The course for the time trial was a brutal one, with three climbs that all tipped over 10% gradient; culminating in the climb of the Poggio hitting a maximum of 18%. There was a chance, a small but distinct chance, that Stannard could have one final chance at a podium finish.
It was a chance that Stannard grabbed as he proppelled himself around the course to be the only rider to go sub-29.30mins for the final stage. His time of 29.25mins saw him average an impressive 45.688kph, finishing 11 seconds ahead of Joao Almeida of Hagens Berman Axeon and 31 seconds clear of Almeida’s teammate Mikkel Bjerg. But it was the gap to Stephen Williams that was of primary interest in the GC battle.
The British rider had a good time trial by the overall race standards, finishing 12th, but the climbing took its toll on a number of riders and it was the time gap that provided a final GC shake up that swung in Stannard’s favour. Williams stopped the clock in 31.22mins, 1.57mins behind Stannard; thus relinquishing his grip on third place.
Stannard ended the race third overall, 52 seconds behind Vlasov and 6 seconds shy of second placed Almeida. Almeida also took the best young rider classification with Stannard in second place.