Race Report: There is never a surprise winner in Roubaix and today’s ‘Hell of the North’ didn’t disappoint the fans. The cobbles were dry and fast, perfect for a certain German who used to be a sprinter and now is the Classicsman of 2015 – John Degenkolb. The fast and furious road to Roubaix.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin & Germany) took his second Monument of the year (after Sanremo) in brilliant fashion on the hallowed tarmac of Roubaix’s velodrome on Sunday afternoon – having bridged to what looked like the winning move of two riders he still had the strength to win the sprint when another four bridged up to make it a seven man showdown. Etixx – Quick-Step were second yet again with Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic) not having the pure brute strength and speed of the German. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC & Belgium) was the bridesmaid again taking the third spot on the podium after an engrossing and hard race.
How the Race Unfolded
The race started under sunny skies – shame – the usual flurries came thick and fast but it was around the half hour mark before a move ‘stuck’ with Gregory Rast (Trek Factory Racing), Adam Blythe (Orica-GreenEDGE), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling), Pierre-Luc Perichon (Bretange-Seche), Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Ralf Matzka (Bora-Argon 18) going clear.
With 50 K covered in the first hour it was no ‘soft’ move – one minute, three, five, nine; yes, this is indeed the ‘move of the day.’ Troisville, the first ‘secteur’ 27 and the dust flies as Sky and Etixx – Quick-Step ride tempo to keep those upstarts in the break under control. We thought Sky were going to ‘cool it’ this weekend; Sir Wiggo must be feeling good, he’s right there – but the race hasn’t even started. . .
Secteur 24 with the gap 7:04 and the Sky and Etixx – Quick-Step jerseys still to the fore – the break rattles into Secteur 23 and a steady stream of riders slide off the back and into oblivion, especially in that wind. The break aren’t messing around, the gap is slipping but very slowly as BMC and Tinkoff-Saxo come to the front. The crashes are becoming more and more frequent at the back as fatigue bites; but what’s Sir Wiggo doing back there – dangerous, dangerous.
Secteur 20 and the break drives in with 6:36; four ProContinental riders in the break; Backaert, Declerq, Mazka and Perichon good to see, honouring the race. Meanwhile the peloton exits Secteur 21 and hammers into Secteur 20 with LottoNL-Jumbo to the fore – Big Sep Vanmarcke must be feeling good. The peloton is fracturing with little groups sliding backwards in the dust but clawing back on the tarmac – Bradley Wiggins is taking a big chance back there.
The gap to the break has gone back out to 6:50 – a tailwind is always good for the breakaway. Rast leads the escape into Secteur 19; it’s a long one, over two K and four star difficulty. Wiggins sees sense and moves up as Arenberg approaches with team mate Eisel on the front but it’s Lotto-Soudal and Jumbo leading the peloton into Secteur 19 as the gap comes down towards six minutes. Arenberg; another two K plus and five star difficulty as the break rides neatly into it; Saramotins is first out…
Meanwhile, back in the peloton – it’s insanity as Oss and GVA (BMC) Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Haussler (IAM Cycling) take no chances and keep to the head of affairs. There’s the usual lull as they come onto the tar and backsides get a brief break – not for the break though, they’re charging into Secteur 17 and still have 5:34 on the Apache band in hot pursuit.
The level crossing gates close in Secteur 17 and the peloton is split as riders dice with the TGV – the commissars step in though and the front half of the peloton have to sit up and wait. This does the break no harm as they hit Secteur 16 – all three K plus of it as Geraint Thomas goes down, it looks over for him. The gap is under five minutes now as Etixx – Quick-Step force it in the peloton, big Boonen lookalike Van Keirsbulck doing the damage as the elastic stretches. The race is building towards its conclusion; early in the day riders can get back on out of a sector, on the tar – but at this point the Secteurs come fast and furious and there’s simply no time to recover.
Secteur 15 for the peloton with 200km in their legs; the break are in #14 and still working well. The weather is playing a big part in this race, if it was wet then there would maybe 30 riders left in the peloton – as it is, there are at least 100 still there. But as Billy Bilsland says; ‘the race is the last hour’ and we’re not there yet. The break are on tar and form a nice echelon to combat that cross wind with Etixx – Quick-Step massing at the front of the peloton, this looks like an ambush forming…
The peloton is a long, long line as they hit the tarmac with Etixx – Quick-Step forcing an echelon – Stybar, Vandenberg, Lampaert, Trentin do the damage and those behind have to burn precious watts to stay alive. It’s getting serious now but the seven breakaways still have 2:45 and enjoy some smooth tar before the brutality of Secteur 12; they’re beginning to look a little weary now – but who can blame them, it’s been a long day at the coal face.
Etixx – Quick-Step drive through Secteur 12, Van Keirsbulck again – a big strong boy, with Stijn Vandenberg on his wheel, an even bigger, stronger boy. The break’s advantage is down to two minutes and they’re risking punctures, riding on the verges – tiredness does that to you. Riders are sliding out of the peloton one by one as Sagan puts in a dig, Stannard responds – Degenkolb, Kristoff are there.
The Last Hour
Secteur 10, Mons-en-Pevel long at 3000 meters, difficult and sure to see a selection as we ride into that last hour.
It’s big Sieberg forcing it for Lotto-Soudal with team mate Roelandts right there too – Stannard, Degenkolb, Kristoff, Sagan, Vanmarcke all there. Stijn Vandenberg goes; the rest will know to not give this guy any rope – he’s one beast of a man.
The break hits Secteur Nine and is down to five; Blyth and Matzka are toast with the gap down to a minute. It takes a while before F des J commit to pursue the behemoth that is Stijn; Offredo works hard for Demare – a French winner would be wonderful for the race but there’s still a long way to go.
We spoke too soon, Demare punctures, damn! Vandenberg zooms past Blythe and Mazka and pounds onwards in pursuit of the five survivors. One or two ease off the front of the peloton, Debusschere is there for Lotto-Soudal, Sinkeldam for the other Lottos in the race but Katusha bring it back as the break hits Secteur Seven.
He attacks hard, gets the gap. . .
There are 32 K to go, Wiggins catches Vandenberg, Debusschere gets on to them and it’s a decent gap already – and Stybar makes it up. But the peloton is too big, too close and it gels. The break is doomed, less than 30 seconds as they hit Secteur Six – behind it stretches, Boom, Kristoff, Degenkolb, Wiggins, Stybar, Sagan, GVA, Roelandts are all there.
Carrefour de l’Arbre
Vanmarcke is having a dig but really they’re all waiting for Secteur Four the notorious Carrefour de l’Arbre. Roelandts and an Astana go, the favourites aren’t far behind with another group chasing hard; Roelandts goes solo on Secteur Five and looks good – he has a 20 seconds plus.
And we’re in the Carrefour with ten miles to go as Roelandts commits 100% on the hellish granite and dirt. Luke Rowe is riding superbly for Sky and his captain, Brad Wiggins; but there are still a lot of strong, fast men here – not least Degenkolb. Roelandts still drives but he’s doomed – it gels.
Boom goes but he’s nailed in seconds; Lampaert goes for Etixx – Quick-Step, GVA goes with him, Bert De Bakker counters for Giant and that’s Degenkolb bridging up to his team mate. Inside 10km and De Bakker ‘pops’, Degenkolb is trying to bridge solo to Lampaert and GVA as they ride into Secteur Two – he’s up and goes right through – wow! Lampaert and GVA won’t work with Degenkolb – he shouldn’t be surprised.
Into the Last 5K
Four K, they have 10 seconds; Boom, Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE), Elmiger (IAM Cycling) and Stybar chase – and the Czech goes, he bridges! Boom, Elmiger and Keukeleire get there, too – seven hit the velodrome together. Lampaert leads for Stybar, he dies, Stybar has to lead but doesn’t commit, he’s waiting for Degenkolb – the German jumps, Stybar counters; no chance.
John Degenkolb wins his second Monument of the year; Stybar second, GVA third – a brilliant race – a great winner.
1. John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Alpecin in 5:49:51
2. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx – Quick-Step
3. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC
4. Lars Boom (Ned) Astana
5. Martin Elmiger (Swi) IAM Cycling
6. Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEDGE
7. Yves Lampaert (Bel) Etixx – Quick-Step at 0:07
8. Luke Rowe (GB) Sky at 0:28
9. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 0:29
10. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha at 0:31
11. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo
12. Bert De Backer (Bel) Giant-Alpecin
13. Aleksejs Saramotins (Lat) IAM Cycling
14. Borut Bozic (Slo) Astana
15. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Etixx – Quick-Step
16. Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Bora-Argon 18
17. Florian Senechal (Fra) Cofidis
18. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Sky
19. Björn Leukemans (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
20. Grégory Rast (Swi) Trek
21. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Soudal
22. Marco Marcato (Ita) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
23. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo
24. Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana at 1:38
25. Frederik Backaert (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert.