We witnessed one of the most thrilling finishes in recent years, as the 2004 Queen of the Classics ended in Roubaix Velodrome this afternoon. Dry, dusty conditions and sunshine helped the riders avoid the worst of what this race can deliver.
Without further ado, it’s time to tell you that the surprise winner, upsetting Johan Museew and the hopes of the Belgian nation, was Sweden’s Magnus Backstedt (Alessio-Bianchi), who got the better of Tristan Hoffman (Team CSC) and Roger Hammond (MrBookMaker.com).
Realising he was beaten in his final Paris-Roubaix, Museew crossed the line with Peter Van Petegem, arms draped around each other’s shoulders – a fitting tribute to a great Classics rider and his career, from one who still has a few years left. With a bit more luck, he could have done it, but punctured with only 5 kms to go when in the leading break.
It was another slightly odd race, following on from last week’s Tour of Flanders, as a big bunch survived together out of the Arenberg Forest. The first real action of the day was a 5-man break after 70kms – Comesso and Bonomi (Saeco); Auger (RAGT); Albasini (Phonak) and Krauss (Gerolsteiner). They gained a maximum of 5 minutes before getting hauled back, although Comesso tried to prolong the agony by heading out with Geert Van Bondt.
The peloton strung out as they motored towards the Arenberg Forest – much drier than normal with just a few patches of mud. Enough to bring lone attacker Rolf Aldag (T-Mobile) to a virtual standstill.
A group of about 20 emerged from the Forest, having avoided the fallen motorbike, and were soon joined by reinforcements, making a group of about 40, with plenty Lottos, Quick.Steps, T-Mobiles and CSCs.
Hoj and Van Bon had a go, and got a bit of a gap, but were hauled back. There were the usual flurries of attacks and regroupings.
Coming out of the Le Carrefour de l’Arbre section of pavй 14 kms from home, the race was in bits, as Hammond (MrBookMaker.com), Backstedt (Alessio), Hoffman(CSC), Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) and Museew (Quick.Step) were all together and working well until Museew punctured almost within sight of his record equalling 4th victory. He tried to claw it back with PVP, but it wasn’t to be.
The remaining 4 gave it everything and got a gap of about 30 seconds as they headed to the finish and onto the Roubaix track.
The crowd started to go wild as they realised that Museew and PVP had made up a chunk of their deficit and were onto the velodrome with the 4 leaders slowing a little to prepare for the sprint. They had too much to do, and had to settle for defeat as the quartet up ahead raced for the line.
Backstedt had got himself into the perfect position (in 3rd wheel) and dived below Hoffman, holding off the Dutchman, with Hammond and Cancellara unable to get by. The big Swede freewheeled round the track, arms stretched in the air, unable to believe that he’d won.
In the track, he shared a few moments with his wife, Megan, and then got even more kisses from a jubilant Fabio Baldato, who looked like he was more thrilled than even Backstedt himself.
Backstedt told European TV networks at the finish that the breakaways had agreed to ride hard and work together to stay away, and fight out the finish between them. “It’s a dream … I can’t believe it! I do a lot of track riding. I knew I had to stay high on the last corner then dive down to the inside and I’d be OK.” He also admitted that he’d been most worried about breakthrough British rider Roger Hammond.
Hammond produced the ride of his career, and still being a young guy in Classics terms, will surely find himself on a big team with more firepower behind him next year.
So Museew missed out, but he was in the mix, off the front, and fighting all day. Robbed by bad luck, he can say goodbye to the Classics, knowing he did everything he could to keep the dream alive. So long, Johan. You’ve given us all great years and memories.
Paris-Roubaix (261 kms)
1 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Alessio-Bianchi 6hrs 46’ 12”
2 Tristan Hoffman (Ned) CSC same
3 Roger Hammond (GBr) MrBookmaker same
4 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo same
5 Johan Museeuw (Bel) Quick.Step +23”
6 Peter van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Domo same
7 Leon van Bon (Ned) Lotto-Domo +45”
8 George Hincapie (USA) USPS-Berry Floor same
9 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick.Step-Davitamon same
10 Frank Hoj (Den) CSC same