Rob Stannard officially has the professional victory monkey off his back.
The Sydney-born 23-year-old secured his first stage professional stage race win in Belgium overnight at Tour de Wallonie, finishing second on the final stage in Chapelle-lez-Herlaimont to extend his overall winning margin to 10 seconds after five stages of racing at the 2.Pro event.
Stannard jumped into the overall lead at Wallonie following a third and fourth place finish in the opening two stages, and was able to maintain a slim four second advantage over Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux’s Loic Vliegen over the next three tough days in the Wallonia region.
“I have worked a lot over the past five days to win this Tour de Wallonie,” Stannard said in a post-race interview.
"My team worked a lot and things went well for us, so I'm relieved that I was able to keep the leader's jersey until the end.
“On Wednesday, in the cobblestone stage, I can also be happy that we had no incidents.
“It was very stressful, you had to manage the risks on the cobbled sections.
“I don't think I've ever competed in such a stressful race in my entire career.
“There were several riders who were threatening (my lead) and so I had to be attentive from start to finish.”
The win will no doubt deliver a major injection of confidence for the Alpecin-Deceuninck Aussie, who has had a quiet yet consistent season since his spring classics season ended with a 17th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April.
It also comes three weeks out from an expected start at the Vuelta a España, the UCI WorldTour’s third and final grand tour of the year.
“I hope this victory will mark a turning point in my career,” Stannard said.
“I came here with the aim of winning, but I never thought things would turn out the way they did.
“A lot of people around me thought I could win.
“We will be there (at La Vuelta) with a strong team and the goal for me will be to win a stage.”