World Champion Peter Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe spent the week bemoaning his fate as the marked man of the classics. Then he went out and did something about it.
Sagan soloed away from the peloton during the Auchy-Les-Orchies secteur of Paris-Roubaix, bridged up to the remnants of the day’s breakaway, and pummeled the entire sport of cycling to earn his first victory in the Hell of the North, outsprinting a surprising surviving Silvan Dillier of AG2R on the last quarter-lap of the old Roubaix Velodrome to take the victory, thrusting both fists in the air and showing his dirty, dusty rainbow for anyone who doubted his greatness before today.
Sagan’s victory gives him the Career Double — with his Monumental Flanders win in 2016 — and ticks off the last box for him in the cobbled classics, along with his E3 win in 2014 and several victories in Gent-Wevelgem, most recently two weeks ago. The triple-rainbow winner undoubtedly has more goals for his career but this was by far the biggest single-day objective on his list. Sagan now has a hall-of-fame resume beyond all question, assuming anyone was left wondering if the Slovakian was an all-time great or not.
Behind the pair, the chase became smaller and more elite as the cobbled secteurs ticked down, with the group entering the often-decisive Carrefour de l’Arbe only Niki Terpstra, defending winner Greg Van Avermaet, Sep Vanmarcke and Jasper Stuyven. Wout Van Aert was briefly with them as well but suffered a mechanical early on in the secteur and the chase was down to four. They began eating into the over one minute advantage held by Sagan and Dillier, but eventually ran out of road and it became a race for third.
Flanders winner Terpstra soloed away from that group and secured the final podium position, his third such ceremony including a victory in 2014. Van Avermaet took the three-up sprint for fourth.
As usual, the Bigs got busy in the Arenberg Forest, but prior to that the unknown story was about the riders up the road. Dillier left the peloton for good a mere 35km into the race, catching a pair of riders up the road and eventually taking part in an eight-rider group with six minutes in hand. They still had two minutes entering Arenberg, but the group began splintering.
Behind them, Philippe Gilbert of Quick Step followed a determined attack from Mike Teunissen of Sunweb in the Trouée d’Arenberg, the famous forest, and the pair had a small gap as they exited the madness, which they extended out past Pont Gibus and the roads headed to the race’s conclusion. Mads Pedersen tried to make it across but suffered a flat tire. Instead, Nils Politt of Katusha made the bridge, and the threesome were away. After the brief Wandignies secteur they picked up three riders from the early break, Soupe actually remaining with them as the peloton gained steam behind them. Jempy Drucker sprung across to them with 75km remaining and the peloton reeled them in moments later.
Then it was time for some classic tactics, as Zdenek Stybar jumped away right after the juncture was made. He got a good 20 seconds but the peloton was sufficiently alarmed to stay in pursuit. With the heaviest secteurs approaching Stybar was reeled in and it was still all left to play for.
When Sagan jumped away, there was little anyone could do to respond. He countered an acceleration by Van Avermaet and got clear. Up ahead were only Dillier and fading break-mates Bystrom and Jelle Wallays. With 51km remaining the Rainbow Jersey made the juncture. Behind, the elite group was splintered by a crash that took out former Flanders winner Alexander Kristoff, and Van Aert and Stuyven did their best to bridge up, only to be taken back in by Van Avermaet and the Quick Steppers. Entering Mons-en-Pévèle Taylor Phinney of EF Education First was powering the chase for teammate Vanmarcke, but 15 seconds became 30, 45 and a minute as the secteurs ticked down.
Dillier hung on all the way to the end, occasionally weaving and bobbing, and drawing on every ounce of strength he could muster. But to the end he took his pulls, even (fatefully) a pull around the velodrome, which sealed his fate in the sprint. Nonetheless, second place is an unbelievable result for the champion of Switzerland, with few results but a reasonable knack for these races on his resume (previously of BMC) and fresh off a win at the Route Adélie de Vitré last week.
1 SAGAN Peter, BORA - HANSGROHE 5h 54’ 06’’
2 DILLIER Silvan, AG2R LA MONDIALE + 00’ 00’’
3 TERPSTRA Niki, QUICK - STEP FLOORS + 00’ 57’’
4 VAN AVERMAET Greg, BMC RACING TEAM + 01’ 34’’
5 STUYVEN Jasper, TREK - SEGAFREDO + 01’ 34’’
6 VANMARCKE Sep, TEAM EF EDUCATION FIRST - DRAPAC P/B CANNONDALE + 01’ 34’’
7 POLITT Nils, TEAM KATUSHA ALPECIN + 02’ 31’’
8 PHINNEY Taylor, TEAM EF EDUCATION FIRST - DRAPAC P/B CANNONDALE + 02’ 31’’
9 STYBAR Zdenek, QUICK - STEP FLOORS + 02’ 31’’
10 DEBUSSCHERE Jens, LOTTO SOUDAL + 02’ 31’’
11 TEUNISSEN Mike, TEAM SUNWEB + 02’ 31’’
12 NAESEN Oliver, AG2R LA MONDIALE + 02’ 31’’
13 VAN AERT Wout, VERANDA’S WILLEMS - CRELAN + 02’ 31’’
14 WALLAYS Jelle, LOTTO SOUDAL + 02’ 37’’
15 GILBERT Philippe, QUICK - STEP FLOORS + 03’ 07’’
16 JANSEN Amund Grondal, TEAM LOTTO NL - JUMBO + 03’ 07’’
17 DEGENKOLB John, TREK - SEGAFREDO + 03’ 07’’
18 MARCATO Marco, UAE TEAM EMIRATES + 03’ 07’’
19 VAN BAARLE Dylan, TEAM SKY + 03’ 07’’
20 HAUSSLER Heinrich, BAHRAIN - MERIDA + 03’ 07’