Roubaix ’11: Mayhem And Magic!

Wow, where to start?! Crashes, mechanicals, sunshine, dust, carnage, chaos, speed, tactics, arguments, bluffs, counter-bluffs, favorites, surprises, solos, cherry blossoms, shirt sleeves – it was an incredible edition, epic even without the mud and rain. Cancellara was the outstanding favorite and defending champ. Here’s how it happened.

The first hour or so is crazy fast – 47kms covered and no significant breakaways. Into hour two, and eight go away: the German wildcard Team NetApp get Simon Seubert in there to justify their selection – nice. With him are Canadian David Veilleux (Europcar), Boucher (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Docker (Skil-Shimano), Saur-Sojasun’s Jimmy Engoulvent.

Dust, crashes, and the hope for fresh wheels were the feature items on today’s Roubaix menu.

The dry roads mean it will be a quick race, so you need to be in shape to survive today. Half-distance and the break is ahead but the gap is small. Crashes left, right and centre as the high speed and dusty road surfaces bring riders tumbling. Leukemans, is down

121kms to go: it’s now a dusty dozen as Andre Greipel and pals make contact with the leading group. It’s a good three hours to go and it’s a constant frenzy of mechanicals and tumbles. Riders calling their team cars and going down on puddle-slicked corners. Our man Jered will be loving it: the peloton kicking up a dust storm as they belt along the narrow lanes, and then the occasional Mark Rothko-like landscape with blocks of glorious verdant green field, baked brown mud and unforgiving grey cobbles.

108kms left and the break is nudging two minutes – they should be good to get through the Forest of Arenberg on their own terms as the peloton goes into hand-to-hand combat behind. A traffic island takes out a mini-peloton before they even reach Arenberg.

Full tilt into the Forest and Boonen has a mechanical, no-one helps. The team car is stuck behind, and Tom looks like he’s waiting for a bus. Effectively, game over. He gets two team-mates to pace him and flies past dropped riders – Chavanel punctures, now Boonen crashes. QuickStep having a day to forget with about 72kms left to race.

Crash – Thomas! Crash – Haussler! Crash – Chavanel Again! Crash – Pozzato! Crash – Leukemans again! Chavanel is bloodied and bruised with a badly torn kit showing off his wounds.

47kms left: Thor Hushovd stamps hard and stretches things and his group splinters. Cancellara, Ballan and Eisel respond but everyone is hurting now. Cancellara drives out of the dust, wrestling the bike like it’s a bucking bronco. Flecha and Hushovd are hanging on for all they’re worth.

Cancellara switches from the crown of the cobbles to the gutter and back again. It’s a tunnel of fans, walls of noise on either side, shirt sleeves, barbecues, beers in hand, flags flying, families enjoying their day out.

Out of cobbled section 10, Mons-en-Pevel, and Cancellara hasn’t managed to rid himself of Huhovd, Flecha or Ballan.

Now clearing sector 9, 40kms to go and Gorazd Stangelj isrocking his Slovenian champion’s colors for Astana and his lead group still has over a minute.

Sector 8, Cancellara out of the saddle and battering his way over the cobbles. Hushovd hangs on, Ballan struggles.

Hushovd skims an old lady’s toes as he corners way wide at speed. Still sixteen men up front and it’s not a foregone conclusion that someone behind will come up and win. Fred Guesdon injects a bit of pace, and he’s still at the head of Paris-Roubaix years on from winning here in 1997. Still ahead: Guesdon, Veilleux, Quinziato, Van Summeren, Degenkolb, Rast, Cooke, Leezer, Elmiger, Docker, Bak, Roelandts. Cooke, Hayman, Vaitkus, Tjallingii.

Lars Ytting Bak rolls off the front with Elmiger shadowing. Behind Cancellara takes the tactical huff with Hushovd and refuses to do any more work So Hushovd and Ballan have a problem now. Hushovd grabs a bottle and Cancellara is waving his hands at the Garmin-Cervelo team car. He’s taking his metaphorical ball home with him coz IT’S NOT FAIR!! The gap to the front stretches out again to 40 seconds, and suddenly Flecha and a handful of others make contact.

Rasch has gone back on the front of the favorites’ group, towing it along. Ahead, the leaders are potentially chucking away the chance of a lifetime as they hit the Cysoing (sector 6.1) cobbles. 26.5kms left and if they ride together, the ‘names’ are all out of it. Cancellara and co. are now over a minute back.

It’s apocalyptic now as the cars throw up a wall of dust. Garmin-Cervelo are now working and they look like they’ve been sandblasted.

24kms left and the ‘little guys’ are 65 seconds clear. They have a momentary ceasefire, grab bottles from the roadside, Guesdon punctures and comes back up. The gap is now down to a more manageable 45 seconds but Lars Bak launches again and they’re flat-out once more. Rast and Van Summeren join him.

20 clicks remain: Garmin-Cervelo just have to get on with closing it down. Camphin-en-Pevele (cobbled sector 5) now and you can barely make out who’s who through the dust. The now front trio have vanished into the murk but Tjallingii joins them. The last major obstacle looms, and it’s a new Hell: the Carrefour de l’ Arbre (cobbled sector 4) is a five-star menace, with over 2 kilometres of hurt.

Van Summeren goes for it and gaps his companions, but Tjallingii responds. For the favorites, Hushovd hits the accelrator and Cancellara whips past a camera bike – only just, but it slows his momentum. Flecha is dropped, but Boom and Hushovd, Ballan, still there. Thrilling stuff, but they’re now over a minute back again.

Tete de la Course is Johan Van Summeren solo and throwing round a massive gear.

Cancellara and Hushovd sweep past the remnants of the former front group – it’s a whirlwind of epic proportions blasting those guys out of the race. Cancellara jumps again as Hushovd looks over his shoulder. 13kms left now and Van Summeren is totally and utterly committed to this. Bak and Rast are 25 seconds behind; Tjallingii has disappeared. Veilleux recovers enough to attack the Cancellara group who are 51 seconds behind – Flecha and Boom are now having an exchange.

10kms to go for Van Summeren who is flying. The time gaps are changing constantly but Bak and Rast are coming back to Van Summeren again. The remaining favorites and their companions are making little impression.

Penultimate cobbles for Van Summeren now, and the Belgian with the build of a lamppost is bouncing around all over the place. 6 kms left and the chaos of the race is such that Tjallingii re-emerges from the madness and is second on the road, but 25 seconds behind Van Summeren.

van Summeran enjoys cycling’s version of “nothing but net”.

Ballan drives the favorites, flicks the elbow for help – Cancellara just lets him sit there out front. It’s a hell of a way to make a point; chucking away one of the biggest races in the sport because you’re being marked too tightly.

Tjallingii is out of the saddle and suffering to hold his pace.

Flecha and Boom are parrying; Cancellara jumps and Hushovd can’t get him. A big gap rips open, but surely it’s too late. Maybe not! He screams straight past the Bak/Rast/Tjallingii trio who look at him in astonishment. 40 seconds for Van Summeren and he might need all of them!

Last sector in the Roubaix streets for our lone leader, and he takes the last corner safely. Into the velodrome and he takes the banking, hears the bell, looks across. Cancellara is in the vleodrome with the rest of them! Holy crap! That’s a hell of a pursuit!

But Van Summeren is safe, and he sits up to savour his biggest career win! Brilliant stuff.

Rast leads out for second but Cancellara easily takes him and Tjallingii gets by for third, as a couple of big groups loom behind.

An extraordinary edition of an extraordinary race. It’s a surprise winner, but nobody wins Roubaix with a fluke. Van Summeren deserves the cobblestone he’ll take home with him tonight, even if he has a Hell of a job lifting it over his head! Cancellara rode another incredible race – podiums in all three Spring Classics so far but no wins. Maybe he’s too strong for his own good.

Paris-Roubaix Result

1 Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin-Cervelo 6hrs 07′ 28
2 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard-Trek + 19
3 Martin Tjallingii (Ned) Rabobank
4 Gregory Rast (Swi) Radioshack same time
5 Lars Ytting Bak (Den) HTC-High Road + 21
6Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team + 36
7 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) HTC-High Road + 47
8 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervelo
9 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Sky Procycling Team
10 Matt Hayman (Aus) Sky Procycling Team same time