Today’s Paris-Roubaix saw the fulfilment of one man’s dream and the crushing of another’s. Giant-Alpecin’s John Degenkolb played his cards perfectly to set up a sprint for the line in the Roubaix Velodrome, while Sky’s Bradley Wiggins ended his WorldTour road racing career rolling in just inside the top 20.
Rider of the race
With all the hype around Wiggins’ last race, Etixx-Quick Step’s desperation for a win after being also-rans so far in this year’s classics and a red-hot Alexander Kristoff, the Mighty Degs played it smart by keeping a low profile for much of the race. He stayed in the pack, up front and out of trouble, for a good 240-plus kilometres until he followed an attack by BMC’s Greg van Avermaet and Etixx’s Yves Lampaert 10km from the finish.
When those guys saw the Giant rider bridging over, they must have let out groans of disappointment – as the best sprinter in the entire 20-man group that had made the final selection, Degs was always going to be the rider you didn’t want on your wheel. If they had to have him, though, they were going to make him work, leaving the German rider to do most of the heavy lifting to keep the larger group from coming back together.
When this lead trio was joined in the final few kilometres by another four-man group, including Zdenek Stybar (Etixx) and Lars Boom (Astana), Degs didn’t panic. Why would he? If he went into the velodrome together with this group of guys, he could smoke each and every one of them in a sprint. And that’s exactly what he did to become only the third rider to win Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in the same season. Stybar and GVA were second and third respectively.
This is unbelievable. I can’t get it right now. My team was there all day to hold the situation under control until I could start. I was not afraid to fail and that was the key.
What’s even better is the fact that he would stop talking in the post-race interview to hug each and every one of his teammates as they came into the tent to congratulate him. A great rider needs a great team and he has one.
Four things we loved
1. It’s like Everest. There’s a saying among great mountaineers that you don’t conquer Everest, Everest allows you to make the summit. Roubaix is the racing equivalent of that – you can crunch as many numbers as you like, time each section and put the power beside it, but the race isn’t won like that. It’s won with experience, luck and a heartfelt sense of what the race is bringing you on the day. Fabian Cancellara once said when he was on a winning ride, it was like riding in a trance. The spirit of Roubaix has to be on your side to win.
2. The unexpected rider. Of course, Degs was always going to be rider of the race once he hit the velodrome, but one rider who was just astonishing was Sky’s Luke Rowe. If I could hand out a joint rider of the race, it would be to him. Resilient? That guy was riding balls-to-the-wall the whole time – he would yo-yo off the back then next thing you know he’d be doing a powerful turn at the front, shaking the interlopers off his wheel to help his teammates. That he finished eighth, the best by far in a team with some stellar names, is testament to the fact that this kid has guts and a great feel for these races. Roubaix may well smile on him one day.
3. The crowd didn’t make the final selection. In the past few years, the crowds have been playing too big a part in the results of races – 2013’s Roubaix was possibly lost for Stybar by a spectator too close to the road and of course there have been a few tragic incidents of riders colliding with fans, doing irreparable damage to both. But this year, this wasn’t the case. The crowds were respectful and no selfie-sticks pole-axed the riders from their bikes.
That’s more than I can say for some of the riders themselves when they rode through a level crossing with a train bearing down on them. This is so forbidden, it isn’t even funny, but the commissaires pleaded that they couldn’t identify the riders. That anyone would think a race was worth playing chicken with a TGV is beyond me – and if riders are going to protest about health and safety during races, they need to stop doing stupid-ass things like this or no one will take them seriously.
4. On paper, the parcours looks ridiculous. “Okay, so we’re going to get about 200 cyclists to go as fast as they can over a mix of tarmac and cobbles, in various states of repair, ending up with a lap and a half around a velodrome in an industrial town.” Considering what Oleg Tinkov proposed a few weeks ago as a new model for cycling, which suggested riding around an F1 circuit, doing circuits around nondescript towns with smooth roads and ticketing events(!), Roubaix would never get past the planning stage. Legendary races like Roubaix give cycling its heartbeat, attracts new fans and give riders something mad and wonderful to dream about, to train for and, for a lucky few, win with style.
1. John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) 5:49:51
2. Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quick Step) same time
3. Greg van Avermaet (BMC) s/t
4. Lars Boom (Astana) s/t
5. Martin Elmiger (IAM) s/t
6. Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t
7. Yves Lampaert (Etixx-Quick Step) +0:07
8. Luke Rowe (Sky) +0:28
9. Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) +0:29
10. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) +0:31
Link: Official race website