Fabian Cancellara’s big frame sprawled, exhausted on the grass of the Roubaix Velodrome centre told its own tale of how much it took out of the Swiss Radio Shack rider to grab the magical ‘double’ – the Tour of Flanders and now, Paris-Roubaix.
Outsprinting final breakaway companion Sep Vanmarcke (Belgium & Blanco) in the home straight, the former time trial king put two mid week crashes behind him to win a great edition of the Queen of the Classics. Vanmarcke proved that his win in the 2012 Het Nieuwsblad was no fluke with a great runner-up spot. QuickStep’s run of grim bad luck continued; but Dutchman Niki Terpstra took a fine third spot on the podium.
How It All Started
The first real break of the day came after around 30 minutes of racing – 13 riders including Gert Steegmans (QuickStep) with Jacob Rathe (Garmin) and Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank) both of whom were in the early break in Flanders, last weekend. But the peloton was in no mood to let a big early move go and the elastic barely tightened, let alone snapped with the gap at around 30 seconds for kilometre after kilometre. Not that the break was dawdling with riders unable to hold the pace and dropping back to the shelter of the peloton before the escape disintegrated totally.
As the first pave loomed large in 200 riders’ minds and the K’s clicked down to Sector 27, Troisville at 98 K there was little chance of another escape – all good for Cancellara.
With 134 K to go under bright blue skies there was a group clear on Sector 23, Saint Martin; Boasson Hagen and Thomas for Sky, Phinney for BMC – The Shack can’t let that go.
All change out of the sector, on to smooth tar and four are up the road – big men Gert Steegmans (QuickStep) and Matt Hayman (Sky) plus Clement Koretzky (Bretagne) and former winner, Stuey O’Grady (GreenEdge). QuickStep could win with Chavanel, Terpstra or Vandenbergh; Sky with Thomas, Eddy BH or Stannard; the Bretagne man is there for the TV time whilst Stuey is said to be flying and has Langeveld and Keukeleire behind – good tactics from the three World Tour squads.
Sector 21 and the four desperados fly across the sets with Stuey and Hayman rampant – but it’s trickier back in the peloton with elbows, stray back wheels, dust and tiredness to deal with. The gap approaches a minute as The Shack ride tempo out of the sector and Greipel (Lotto) decides it’s time to bridge across, pummelling that poor Ridley through the dust.
Back on the tar and Koretzky takes his spell – something he couldn’t do on the pave – as the gap goes out to 1:09, 1:22, 1:43, 2:05 with The Shack doing the ‘double bluff swerve’ thing – they know that Garmin, Europcar, Blanco, IAM, BMC and Katusha all want a result.
Saxo pick it up with what looks like the whole team on the front; another team which needs a result – Breschel? It would be a surprise . . .
Europcar chase now with QuickStep up at the front and out of trouble as they hit Sector 19; Greipel capitulates – a lot of energy wasted. Saxo drive again as the gap begins to shrink – but not too dramatically – and the winding towers of the Arenberg Colliery appear. The break hits Arenberg with 1:30 – Sector 18, 5 star difficulty and 2300 metres. It’s hard enough to walk through the forest, never mind charge in on tubular tyres at 60 kph.
Phinney leads the peloton charge and out of the Sector the gap to the break is down to 38 seconds – they lost almost a minute in two kilometres. Not too much mayhem in Arenberg; albeit Geraint Thomas came down – again.
Back on the tar the four breakaways spell smoothly – but it’s too far out; they know they’ll need more support as they hit Sector 17, Wallers with dust flying everywhere. Out of the Sector and it looks all over for the break, unless a few more can bridge across. Hornaing, Sector 16 four stars with 3.7 K of pave – and the break is doomed. But Schar is going across, maybe it’ll be the boost they need, albeit the riders in the break can’t win but will be in place for their leader if & when they come up.
The Shack rides tempo on the front of the peloton, with the gap stretching back out to 45, 53 and as they hit Sector 15 there are just two left up front – Steegmans and Hayman and the gap is back over the minute with Stuey and Schar in No Man’s Land. Meanwhile, at the back, Thomas crashes, again and Pippo is held up; meanwhile, The Shack boys are right where they should be – at the head of the bunch.
Sector 14 and it’s all saying ‘Cancellara’ to me. Hayman and Steegmans hit Sector 13 with 1:13 in hand as Stuey is eaten up – and still The Shack ride tempo as the Euskaltel and Bretagne boys wonder where the sag wagon is . . .
Sector 12 at Orchies and still the two big men have a minute and more as Schar gets to them, eventually. In between is Viktor’s man, Damien Gaudin (Europcar) – stylish? no – bestial? Definitely. He’s setting it up for Turgot. But it’s beginning to get serious in the peloton; Flecha, Boasson Hagen, Stannard, they’re all twitchy. And there’s a counter move with the likes of Stannard and Bonnet (FDJ) and Breschel (Saxo) – but Cancellara decides it’s time to stretch his legs with 51 K to go through Sector 11.
The Fab purge has taken the break’s gap down to 13 seconds as Gaudin makes it across – four ahead on 50 K to go. Hushovd (BMC), Van Summeren (Garmin), Sinkeldam (Argos), Terpstra (QuickStep) are all there – as is sly fox Paolini for Katusha. Mons-en-Pevele, Sector 10 and it’s very animated as the break dies – Boom at the head for Blanco, Terpstra is there and Flecha charges through. But in his wheel is one Vik and Ed’s faves – Stijn Vandenbergh, a beast of a man. And Big Stijn has done a lot of damage; he now heads an elite group – team mate Terpstra, Flecha (Vacansoleil), Cancellara, Langeveld (GreenEdge), Kristoff (Katusha), Eisel (Sky). Turgot is there too for Europcar; but horror, he punctures – and Chava has to change bikes too.
Meanwhile Big Stijn is chewing them up again as they ride through a dust cloud of Saharan proportions in Sector 8. Four are clear with 37 K to go. Vandenbergh, Gaudin, Vanmarcke (Blanco) and Langeveld (GreenEdge) – this looks like the move. Is it over for Cancellara? – back at the car and easing up.
Meanwhile, Van Avermaet (BMC), Flecha, Paolini, and Stybar (QuickStep) are closing on the lead four – and it’s eight in the lead. It’s a quality group – but what’s this? Cancellara charging up from behind like a Nascar racer on the chequered flag lap. Big Stijn has gone again, taking a hurting Vanmarcke with him, 10 seconds they’re clear, 16, 29 seconds as they hit Sector 6 with Flecha leading the charge in the group. Vandenbergh is robotic; Vanmarcke is suffering as they clear the Sector.
Flecha drives, Paolini punctures, Gaudin counters but can’t get daylight – Cancellara hovers, then attacks. Stybar locks on as Cancellara goes to the front and leaves the rest for dead – Stybar is fully entitled to sit on, he has Stijn up ahead. Stybar keeps the gears down as Vandenbergh eases off the gas up ahead; he knows that Cancellara and Stybar are on the next metro.
Inside 20 K, Sector 5 Camphin-en-Pevele and Vandenbergh allows Vanmarcke to lead; Cancellara is in third wheel with Stybar not budging off his wheel. Carrefour de l’Arbre, Sector 4 and Vandenbergh is down; he hits a spectator – a great shame. There are only three men left in it, now. Cancellara kicks but Vanmarcke and Stybar respond – a crazy spectator almost decks Stybar, he stays upright but unclips, tragic! The Cycling Gods have it in for QuickStep in 2013.
Two left – Cancellara and Vanmarcke; the Belgian has found a second wind and is holding his own with the Tour of Flanders winner – thus far. Cancellara flies, Vanmarcke suffers and there’s no coming back for Stybar – a great pity. Inside 10 K and just the 1400 metres of cobbles at Hem, Sector 2 before the final 300 metres of ‘exhibition’ cobbles on the run in to the velodrome in the last kilometre.
Surprisingly, Vanmarcke leads right through the Sector – will Cancellara attack on that long drag to the velodrome, we’ll soon know. Stybar is joined by Flecha but the gap is too big to the flying leaders – and they’re rejoined by the rest of the chasers. Cancellara attacks Vanmarcke; but the Belgian is already thinking about how that cobble stone will look on his mantel shelf.
Inside two K and Cancellara is nervous, he tries to force Vanmarcke to the front – the Belgian takes it up. The last of the cobbles, the red kite, the velodrome entrance, Cancellara brakes, forces Vanmarcke through – we’re into Chris Hoy territory now. The bell, Vanmarcke takes him high on the bankings, Cancellara waits and waits – Vanmarcke goes.
Who’s got most left? The Suisse!
Terpstra save a little bit of honour for Quickstep with last spot on the podium from Van Avermaet and Gaudin in the group sprint.
A great race, a great winner.
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Leopard 5:45:33
2 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Team Blanco 0:00:00
3 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma – Quick Step 0:00:31
4 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC st
5 Damien Gaudin (Fra) Team Europcar st
6 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma Quick Step 0:00:39
7 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge st
8 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Vacansoleil-DCM st
9 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha 0:00:50
10 Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Team Europcar st