The day after completing the Four Days of Dunkirk, Ian Stannard was back at his base in Belgium. In the morning he went for a ride, just a couple of easy hours in the sunshine to spin the legs and stay loose after a hard stage race in northern France.

In the afternoon, he poured himself a cold drink and settled down to watch the third stage of the Giro d?Italia, rooting for a Mark Cavendish win.

?We?ve been searching through the channels to see what time it?s on,? said the 21-year-old Landbouwkrediet rider. ?It makes it even better viewing if you know guys are in it and you know one of them can win.?

Stannard is part of the same generation as Cavendish and Geraint Thomas, who are both riding the Giro.

In fact, Stannard took second place behind Thomas in the 2004 junior Paris-Roubaix. It?s interesting to note that Lampre?s Simon Spilak, who impressed at the Tour of Flanders earlier in the spring, was fourth that day, and Frenchman Clément Lhôtellerie was eighth.

?I know Cav and G really well and I definitely think Cav can win a stage this year.?

But while his friends are embarking on a grand tour, Stannard is ending the first phase of his season. In April he finished the three big cobbled Classics, the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix, at the first attempt ? a fine achievement for a first-year professional.

Last week Stannard almost made a breakthrough at the Four Days of Dunkirk. On the second stage, from Henin-Beaumont to Le Cateau-Cambrésis, he was part of a three-man break that stayed away until the final couple of kilometres.

DUNKIRK SPIRIT
Stannard actually tried to get away on the opening stage. Stéphane Augé of Cofidis and Lhôtellerie of Skil-Shimano broke clear and Stannard tried to bridge the gap. ?I almost got across to the break but when they saw me coming they went a bit harder and I couldn?t make it. I went back to the bunch and then it stayed away to the finish. I was like ?Damn, I missed out there?.?

Augé and Lhôtellerie were more than two-and-a-half minutes clear at the finish.

?The next day I was hoping the race would settle into a similar pattern,? Stannard said.

His partners were Anthony Roux of Française des Jeux and Florian Vauchon of Roubaix Lille Metropole. ?They didn?t let us get more than about four-and-a-half minutes. The FDJ guy and I were working quite well together but the Roubaix guy was just soft-tapping on his turns. We tried to shake him off but couldn?t get rid of him until about 30 kilometres to go when we attacked him on a hill.?

?We came pretty close to staying away, about a couple of kilometres from the finish. We might have made it if the Roubaix guy hadn?t been soft-pedalling.?

Stannard took two of the three intermediate sprints and the time bonuses were enough to lift him to fourth overall, although he slipped back down the overall standings the following day.

?I?m a little bit tired now. Every day was pretty hard. I?ve got a big engine but I?ve noticed I can ride all day in the big gears. The form is obviously there and I can just keep going. All I?ve lost is the sparkly, bouncy feeling when you can spring out of corners. Every corner is an effort,? he said.

That big engine got him through three of the toughest single-day races in the world in April. Next year he wants to make more of an impact. ?I knew I could get round them if I ate well and drank well but if I get to go back next year I?ll know so much more about the races and hopefully I can finish in a more respectable position,? he said.

In the short term, life at Landbouwkrediet is not mapped out in too much detail. ?I don?t really know what I?m doing in the second half of the season,? he said. In the short term he?ll be back for the National 25-mile Time Trial Championship on June 8 and the National Road Race Championship at the end of next month.

His big engine could come in handy in both events. ?At the national road race you have to be there at the front from the first mile to the last. It?ll be interesting to see how it pans out with Pinarello, Rapha and the other teams now.?

FOUR DAYS OF DUNKIRK IN BRIEF
Stage 1: Dunkirk ? Roost-Waredin
Stéphane Augé (France) Cofidis

Stage 2: Henin-Beaumont ? Le Cateau-Cambrésis
Gert Steegmans (Belgium) Quick Step

Stage 3: Le Cateau-Cambrésis ? Saint-Quentin
Kenny De Haes (Belgium) Topsport Vlaanderen

Stage 4: Wasquehal ? Calais
Pierrick Fedrigo (France) Bouygues Telecom

Stage 5: Calais ? Sangatte
Cyril Dessel (France) Ag2r-La Mondiale

Stage 6: Dunkirk ? Dunkirk
Thor Hushovd (Norway) Crédit Agricole

Overall winner
Stéphane Augé (France) Cofidis

British results
Roger Hammond: 24th overall. Tenth on stage six
Paul Manning: 86th
Ian Stannard: 102nd
Jeremy Hunt: Did not finish stage five