Greg Van Avermaet (Team BMC) overcomes mechanical problems and crashes to win his first ever Paris Roubaix crown as four-time winner Tom Boonen (Quickstep-Floors) retired after his last professional race.
The 115th edition of the Hell of the North as it’s otherwise known by the locals was another memorable affair as Avermaet produced a gritty performance to win, in what was Boonen’s farewell race.
For Boonen it wasn’t to be a fairytale ending that the majority of spectators wanted to see. In his last ever Roubaix the 36-year-old finished outside the leading group after not managing to bridge the deficit in the closing 30 kilometres. The four-time winner will now retire, but his status as one of the greatest riders ever to ride the fabled cobbles of Roubaix will live long in the memory.
For the Olympic champion, he adds the Roubaix crown to his already marvellous palmares after what was another truly memorising Roubaix race in Northern France.
Like most years, the race had it all; crashes, mechanicals, surprise performers, but ultimately the man of the moment Avermaet took victory. After the heartbreak of finishing second in the Tour of Flanders last weekend, his victory ahead of Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep-Floors) and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac) means he became Belgian’s 40th different winner of the race.
Avermaet is riding on a crest of a wave
The 31-year-old Belgian rider is in the form of his life at the moment; but his victory today highlighted just how good the BMC rider really is. It certainly wasn’t an easy day, he was caught up in the early crashes, and then on top of that suffering a mechanical a crucial point in proceedings. But it was a dogged ride to get the victory in a race he says is not his ‘favourite one’.
After winning Olympic Gold last summer, Avermaet has continued where he left off last season. This year he won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for a second time, his second placed finished in the Ronde de Vlaanderen was an indication that one-day he will taste victory in Flanders, and now taking victory inside the hallowed Roubaix velodrome shows that Avermaet is currently the man to beat.
First 100km set the tone for things to come
The Hell of the North always provides spills and thrills, but this year saw some big crashes in the opening kilometres of the race which saw some outside contenders fall by the wayside.
For Team Sky, Ian Stannard suffered a puncture which effectively ruined his chances early on, and then their leader Luke Rowe fell-out of contention before the race had really begun to hot up. But they might have found themselves a gem in the shape of Gianni Moscon; the 22-year-old Italian produced a storming Roubaix ride as he finished fifth.
A break never really got established in the opening kilometres, and as the race hit the iconic Arenberg Forest there wasn’t a group of riders with a distinct clear advantage. But it was fair to say that all the big hitters such as Boonen and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) were all still in contention.
Excitement galore as last 50km proved to be the difference
The best of the Roubaix action always happens inside the last 50km, and it was no different today as the defining move of the day went clear with roughly 35km remaining.
The group of six which included Avermaet, Stybar, Langeveld, Moscon, Jaspar Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), and Daniel Oss (Team BMC) put on the pressure as they distanced themselves from the chasing group lead by Boonen, which included Sagan, and last year’s winner Mathew Hayman (Orica-Scott).
As well as Moscon performing well in the French sunshine, it was another Italian, who winner Avermaet has a lot to be thankful to. In the closing stages, Oss left it all on the roads for his leader, as his pace at the front of the race meant Boonen and the others would have to fight another day.
Avermaet holds his nerves to complete iconic victory
When the race hit the Carrefour de L’Arbre, another one of the iconic cobbled sectors of the race, it was here where Avermaet looked to whittle out the dead wood. With Moscon and Stuyven unable to keep up with the pace, Avermaet, Stybar and Langeveld carried on alone.
With Boonen’s group about a minute behind, Stybar was reluctant to do any pulling just in-case the Belgian regained contact, and to the annoyance of Avermaet and Langeveld it meant that the two did most of the work as the race headed ever closer to the velodrome.
But, as they took the right turn into the velodrome it was Stybar that was looking the most ominous out of the three. With the trio lining up for the sprint, Moscon and Stuyven threw a spanner in the works by regaining contact with half a lap remaining.
But as Stybar attacked to become the Czech Republic’s first ever winner of Roubaix, Avermaet powered past Stybar to claim a huge victory.
For Boonen it wasn’t to be as the ‘King of the cobbles’ finished outside the top ten on what was his last ever race.