L’enfer du Nord is in the books and Fabian Cancellara picked up his third Paris-Roubaix win.
In a whole new fashion, Cancellara battered his way to his third Paris-Roubaix win and his second career Flanders-Roubaix double.
The Radioshack team held everything together for 80km or so until thing began to unravel. Multiple moves went off the front, and with under 60km to go, there were four distinct groups on the road with Fabian Cancellara sitting precariously in the fourth. OmegaPharma-QuickStep had riders sprinkled throughout the groups, and relied first on the efforts of Stijn Vandenbergh to ride away. Behind, Cancellara was playing it cool, drifting back to the car and playing a serious game of poker with Nicki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar and Juan Antonia Flecha amongst the riders looking to hold onto his wheel.
When Cancellara dropped the hammer, he swept through the groups with only Zdenek Stybar clinging to his wheel as he rode down the late break of Blanco’s blazing Sep Van Marcke doing an amazing job on the front. Van Marcke has taken some serious flack for a lack of Classics results in the past two years, but he was certainly on form Sunday. After bridging up to Vandenbergh, the race came apart in seriously unfortunate circumstances.
First, a fan looking the wrong way clipped Vandenbergh, ejecting him from his bike and launching him across the cobblestones. Just a short while later, the same sort of issue knocked Zdenek Stybar to the far side of the road and dislodged him from the lead duo of Cancellara and Van Marcke. The former cyclocross World Champion was on his way to an unbelievable finish, and was forced to settle for an eventually sixth place.
Cancellara and Sep rolled the final seven kilometers, with Van Marcke bravely pulling through and even covering a Cancellara attack deftly. He certainly looked Spartacus’ equal, and instead of riding negatively, he rode tough and worked with Cancellara, unlike Sagan last week at Flanders or really any rider in the past two years of Classics racing. It ultimately gave him a chance at the win, because when the chasers realized they weren’t making any progress, they seemed content to race for third once they’d swept up Stybar.
In dramatic fashion, the leaders rolled onto the famous velodrome of Roubaix with Cancellara forcing Sep into a track stand. The younger rider gave in, with Cancellara locked onto his wheel. Looking at each other and back at the entrance of of the velodrome as Nicki Terpstra stormed onto the track. Van Marcke rode exceptionally well, forced Cancellara first to the wall and then to the bottom of the track, but the Swiss powerhouse took the sprint by a half a bike length in the end.
The win gave Cancellara his third win of Paris-Roubaix, and Van Marcke confirmation of his Classics pedigree. Behind, OmegaPhara-QuickStep would have to be happy with third and sixth place, with Sky being the most disappointed, leaving with only Bernhard Eisel’s twelfth place to show for their Classics ambitions in 2013. BMC lucked out again, with the underrated and undervalued Greg Van Avermaet taking fourth place. All week, the experts picked Thor Hushovd and Taylor Phinney, with hardly a mention of the proven Van Avermaet in the major outlets. Phinney finished over three minutes down, only a handful of seconds ahead of Thor Hushovd at 3:39 behind the winners. Hushovd suffered three flat tires on the day, and was conspicuously left to chase on alone at least twice in the race.
The Ardennes Classics are up next, with Amstel Gold Sunday, April 14, before the Fleche-Wallone Wednesday the 17th, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege the 21st.