As John Degenkolb entered the Roubaix velodrome with a group of six other riders, there was a collective sense of knowing exactly who would win the race in 1.5 laps' time. But the seeming inevitability of Degenkolb's victory in the closing kilometers of the race capped off what was a long and suspenseful day of racing where any scenario seemed possible until the final few kilometers of the race.
A strong tailwind blowing the riders north from Compiègne to Roubaix almost all day long had a pronounced effect on racing all day long and was a key contributor to the race's eventual status as the sixth fastest Paris-Roubaix in history at a staggering 43.48kph average speed.
With the wind behind them, numerous attacks from favorites and black horses alike in the final hour of racing got little space on the chasing group and rarely lasted for more than a handful of kilometers. Stijn Vandenbergh attacked in the Mons en Pevele secteur with 45 kilometers to go and got decent space, eventually being joined by Bradley Wiggins a dozen kilometers later as the former Tour de France champion laid a haymaker on Secteur 7. Zdenek Stybar and Jens Debusschere joined the duo, but cooperation never truly emerged in the quartet and they were back together by the time there were just under 30 kilometers to race.
Later, Sep Vanmarcke would attack on Secteur 7 with 22 kilometers to go with power that harkened back to his strength at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. His move was immediately covered by Niki Terpstra, Lars Boom, Peter Sagan, and Degenkolb, but once again a potentially race-winning move was doomed by a genera lack of cooperation among the escapees.
An impossibly large group of 15-20 riders entered the final 14 kilometers of the race together and the attacks kept flying in earnest. Nothing got space until Etixx-Quickstep's Yves Lampaert, a 24 year old in only his third year as a professional, took off with Greg van Avermaet in tow immediately before a long twisty section through a small town. Giant-Alpecin's Bert de Backer took off in pursuit and was shortly joined by Degenkolb.
Unlike everyone else, Degenkolb had yet to hit the wind and was quick to use the last of his teammate's strength before completing the bridge to the duo up front over the last real section of cobbles with 7 kilometers remaining. Behind, a chase group of Boom, Stybar, Martin Elmiger, and Jens Keukeleire formed. Stybar pounced and bridged to the leading trio by himself, but the other three would make contact inside two kilometers to go to set up a sprint from a group of seven.
Though Degenkolb won the sprint easily, it was his constant attention to detail knowing when to be aggressive that saw him to victory. He was rarely any further back than fifth in any decisive cobbled secteur, always lurking at the front and ready to close dangerous gaps. Moreover, his solo bridge to a strong van Avermaet and Lampaert showed he was simply one of the strongest riders in the race at that point.
After playing the role of aggressors all day long, Lotto-Soudal came up short with Jens Debusschere their best finisher in 9th after being out-sprinted by Sky's Luke Rowe on the velodrome. From as early as 60 kilometers out, Lotto seemed to always have someone attacking, even including a probing move by Andrei Greipel. But while their plan was clear, it failed to spring an early escape that could forestall an assault by the big names behind. Debusschere was clearly on good form today, but his day-long aggression likely cost him a chance at finishing in the top five as fresher riders fired their bullets in the last fifteen kilometers. Similarly, Jurgen Roelandts' attack prior to the Carrefour de l'Arbre was impressive and the most threatening of the race so far, but he faded in the rare headwinds and crosswinds at the end of the secteur. One wonders if it is just a matter of time until Roelandts or Debusschere win a big cobbled classic or if they need to change their tactics and race with more restraint.
|3.||BMC||Greg Van Avermaet||275|