The day’s main breakaway of eight riders escaped roughly 25km into the 257km race, but with none of the big names there it was a move designed to attract some TV time for the smaller teams before, ultimately, being caught as the big boys came out to play.
As is ever the case with Paris-Roubaix, crashes littered the race, some ending the chances of potential contenders (such as Katusha’s Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff) and others requiring little more than the riders to dust themselves off and continue on their way.
Many of the major contenders fell foul of mechanical issues or punctures throughout the day. Tom Boonen (OPQS) had a puncture early on, as did BMC hopeful Greg Van Avermaet. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) had a handful of mechanical issues and had to chase back to the peloton each time. And reigning champion Fabian Cancellara (Trek) was lucky to escape unharmed when his teammate Hayden Roulston bunny-hopped off a curb, landed awkwardly and hit the deck just two riders in front of his Swiss team leader. Thankfully Cancellara spotted the incident quickly and was able to stop in time.
Mechanical Sagan again. Flats for Boonen. Crash for Cancellara. Kristoff DNF. Out of favorites only Sep Vanmarcke crash/flat-free
— José Been (@TourDeJose) April 13, 2014
The day’s first big selection was supposed to come in the five-star cobbled sector known as the Forest of Arenberg and with Sky leading the peloton into the sector (for Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins) the field was quickly strung out. But a larger-than-expected peloton emerged from the Forest and it would be left to later sections to force the more significant selections.
Four-time champion Tom Boonen came to the front on the Hornaing cobbled sector with 78.5km remaining and showed that he wasn’t interested in a cruisy ride into Roubaix. On sector 13, about 13km later, Boonen attacked solo and bridged across to a group that had formed a few kilometres earlier. With 61km to go the remaining three leaders in the breakaway had been caught, leaving a group of 12 riders (including Tom Boonen) at the front of the race.
Funny to see 4-time Roubaix winner Tom Boonen get annoyed with those in break who don’t want to work with him. Come on, man. #ParisRoubaix
— Neal Rogers (@nealrogers) April 13, 2014
Much to Boonen’s disgust, Geraint Thomas (Sky) was the only rider helping out with the pacemaking and the group never got more than about 20 seconds clear. That was until the hard work of BMC back in the main field allowed former world champion Thor Hushovd to bridge across to the leaders and contribute to the pacemaking.
Boonen seemed to come to the front on every sector of pave and it wasn’t clear if he was working for himself, or for the benefit of a teammate.
No one wants to ride with Boonen – others have too many leaders behind, and they'd lose to Boonen if they cooperated
— Andrew Hood (@EuroHoody) April 13, 2014
With 40km to go the lead group was down to just six riders but thanks to a false tempo being set by Belkin on the front of the peloton (Bram Tankink was one of the leaders), the gap was out to 45 seconds. It wouldn’t be long before the remaining favourites had to start playing their cards.
Last year’s runner up Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) was the first to attack, 38km from the finish, and he was quickly joined by Cancellara and, on his wheel, Lars Boom (Belkin). The move didn’t stick, with the group being caught from behind, and then again, swelling the peloton back to around 40 riders.
With 35.8km left Peter Sagan made his bid for victory, attacking with just Maarten Wynants of Belkin on his wheel. Up ahead, in the lead group, Tom Boonen attacked yet again, leaving his five breakaway companions behind. But just a few kilometres later Boonen was caught again, almost entirely due to the efforts of Geraint Thomas.
When Sagan and Maartens finally caught on to the lead group, the reduced peloton was within striking distance. And then Boonen attacked from the lead group, again.
Boonen has attacked for the 112th time today. #Roubaix
— peloton magazine (@pelotonmagazine) April 13, 2014
With 23.7km remaining Fabian Cancellara came to the front of the reduced peloton, shortly before a crash saw Greg Van Avermaet and Michael Schar hit the ground and split the field.
Sagan attacked again shortly afterwards, and with 20km left the Slovakian had a 15-second advantage over the Boonen group. Sep Vanmarcke attacked from the chase group, dragging Cancellara with him. Sagan hit the day’s final five-star cobbled sector, the Carrefour de l’Arbre, with a slim advantage and with 15.3km to go he’d been caught. Coming off that brutal cobblestone sector the race had five leaders: Cancellara, Vanmarcke, Zdenek Stybar (OPQS), Sagan and John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
With 12km to go it looked as if the winner was going to come from within that group of five. But with two of the world’s best sprinters in the group — Sagan and Degenkolb — the others seemed reluctant to work and take things to a bunch sprint. The brief respite allowed a chase group to catch on; a chase group containing no less than Geraint Thomas, 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, Sebastien Langeveld (Garmin-Sharp), Bernard Eisel (Sky), the day’s aggressor Tom Boonen and his teammate Niki Terpstra.
With just 8.9km to go in the race we had one of the most impressive lead groups in recent Classics history and it looked as if a bunch kick inside the Roubaix Velodrome might be on the cards.
Holy shit. We could have a 10-man group sprinting for the win in the velodrome. Has that ever happened? #ParisRoubaix
— Neal Rogers (@nealrogers) April 13, 2014
But with 6.3km to the finish Niki Terpstra punched out of the lead group and made his bid for victory. Geraint Thomas made one concerted effort to catch on but the damage had been done. The ferocity of Terpstra’s attack, combined with the cumulative fatigue in the lead group, ensured there was no coordinated response and with 4km to go the Dutchman looked to have it won.
He entered the Roubaix Velodrome on his own and enjoyed a largely ceremonial lap around the track, throwing his hands in the air as he crossed the line. The victory is the biggest of Terpstra’s career and one that comes after several years riding at the service of Tom Boonen. And for the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team, Terpstra’s win will come as a relief, given the strength of their Classics squad and their disappointing result at the Tour of Flanders the week before.