Van Avermaet takes Paris-Roubaix from five-rider group in velodrome

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After a fast and tactical Paris-Roubaix that saw a reversal of fortunes for many pre-race favorites, Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet of BMC Racing took his first Monument victory in the Roubaix velodrome, beating out Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac).

The victory came as a bit of redemption for Van Avermaet, who finished second at the Tour of Flanders one week ago and was left wondering what might have been after he was taken down by Peter Sagan’s crash on the Oude Kwaremont.

Van Avermaet, who also won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, and Gent-Wevelgem this spring, has often said that the short, cobbled climbs of west Flanders suit him better than the heavy cobblestones of northern France. Though he finished third at Roubaix in 2015, and fourth in 2013, he’d also registered several finishes outside of the top 20 during the first part of his career.

Yet on Sunday, his strength, determination in the face of adversity, and strong support from teammate Daniel Oss, delivered Van Avermaet the hallowed cobblestone trophy.

2017 Paris-Roubaix finish

“This was maybe the race I thought I was not able to win,” Van Avermaet said. “When I first came here I was so tired at the finish line, and it was not really what I was expected but I am so happy that I did it. I think everything went perfectly. For me the Olympics will always be my greatest win but now it’s really nice to have a Monument, too.

“I was a bit afraid of Stybar, because he was not working with us, but my sprint felt really good and I was really fast after this kind of long race. I was really confident in my sprint because I have sprinted several times from a small group. At the end of a hard race I’m always one of the fastest guys. I went onto the track with the thought that I was going to win. I’m really happy to win my first Monument because I have had to wait a really long time to finally get on the big spot of the podium.”

Pre-race favorites Tom Boonen (QuickStep Floors) and Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) did not finish in the top 10, with Boonen in 13th, 12 seconds back, and Sagan in 38th, 5:12 down.

Stybar was visibly disappointed at having finished second in what was his team leader’s final race. “We supported Tom today,” he said. “We wanted to give 100% for him, because he deserved that, and even when he was in the chasing group I was still hoping he was going to come back. Only when we got news of him being around 40 seconds behind I started thinking of my chances.

“All the guys did a wonderful job, taking the initiative and controlling the race from the very beginning, and I assure you it wasn’t easy today, as we went full gas from kilometre zero and all the teams made their strategy around us.”

Boonen was pragmatic about his result in a race he won four times, sharing the all-time record.

“The last few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions, but I’m telling you that I wouldn’t have imagined such incredible moments this morning,” he said. “These fans are fantastic and I want to thank them for being by my side in the past 15 years. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking of my retirement today, I was all in for the victory. It was only at the 5km-to-go mark that I began thinking these are the last kilometres of my career.”

Sagan, who raced aggressively, suffered two punctures in the final 80km.

“It was a very tough and very fast Paris-Roubaix,” he said. “My teammates did a great job all day long, but I suffered from punctures at critical moments when I was in a good position in the front of the race, attacking. As I said before, in order to win Paris-Roubaix you need more than good form and legs. However, that’s part of cycling, and we will try next year.”

2017 Paris-Roubaix highlights

A fast and furious start

Van Avermaet’s victory was far from assured when he crashed with over 100km to go, requiring a bike change that put him on the back foot, with a hard chase to regain contact before the infamous Arenberg trench.

By that point — after nearly 100km of riders scrambling to get into a breakaway — the day’s main escape of three riders had opened a gap that never extended to much more than one minute.

Warm, dry, and dusty conditions and a tailwind made for fast racing, with 51km covered in the first hour. In the end, the 2017 Paris-Roubaix was the fastest ever recorded, averaging 45.204 kph, or 28.1 mph, beating Peter Post’s record set in 1964.

In that first successful escape, which formed just before the first of 29 sectors of cobbles, or pavé, was Yannick Martinez (Delko Marseille), Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal) and Mickaël Delage (FDJ).

A big pile-up on the second sector of pavé, at Viesly with 151km remaining, saw Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale), Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott), and 2014 winner Niki Terpstra (QuickStep Floors) on the ground. Terpstra was forced to abandon, leaving QuickStep without one of its biggest weapons.

Martinez would drop off the pace at Viesly, but shortly after, Stijn Vandenbergh (AG2R-La Mondiale) bridged across to Wallays and Delage.

Vandenbergh, Wallers and Delage hit sector 20 at Wallers with a lead of 3o seconds over the peloton. It was at the beginning of the Wallers sector, with 103km remaining, that Van Avermaet went down, requiring a bike change, and losing over 40 seconds.

Sensing an opportunity, and with the five-star, 2.2km Trouée d’Arenberg just ahead, Boonen went to the front and accelerated, with Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) sitting second wheel. About 60 riders remained in the main peloton as it approached the Arenberg trench, one of three five-star sectors, along with Mons-en-Pévèle and the often-decisive Carrefour de l’Arbre.

Sagan and Boonen led the charge through the Arenberg forest, which was notable for its lack of crashes. Delage, however, was unable to match the pace of his breakaway companions across the heavy cobbles, and was replaced by Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), who bridged across. Vandenbergh dropped back to the peloton, further changing the composition of the breakaway, with only Wallays remaining from the original trio.

Heading into sector 18, from Wallers to Hélesmes, Van Avermaet was in a group of about a dozen that also contained his teammate, Jempy Drucker, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), and Lars Boom (LottoNL-Jumbo), who had suffered a mechanical.

The Van Avermaet group made contact with the Boonen-Sagan main peloton at around 85km to go; 17 sectors of pavé remained.

World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) had “one of those days” at Paris-Roubaix, riding aggressively but undone by two punctures late in the race.

Sagan’s tough day at the office

Sagan was next to go on the offensive, drawing out Van Avermaet and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo). By the time they’d exited sector 17 at Hornaing, the breakaway was caught.

Onto the pavement, Sagan attacked with teammate Maciej Bodnar on his wheel, drawing out Oss (BMC Racing) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). The four riders opened a gap of 25 seconds over the chase group of about 25 riders, which included Boonen, Van Avermaet, Degenkolb, Kristoff, Martin, and about 20 others.

Sagan’s move only lasted about 5km, however, as he punctured from the lead group, leaving only Oss and Stuyven at the front.

With 70km to go, Boonen accelerated on the sector 15 Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières cobbles, with Sagan and Degenkolb on his wheel. Though the move shook loose a few riders from the back of the group, Boonen was not able to ride clear of his rivals.

Arnaud Démare (FDJ) was next to attack, on sector 14, Beuvry-la-Forêt to Orchies, with 64km to go. However Martin, working for Kristoff, chased that down, and the two leaders held a 40-second gap over a group of about 45 riders.

German national champion Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) also struck out on his own, but was unable to open a substantial gap.

About 30 seconds behind Stuyven and Oss, a group about 40 riders hit the cobbles at Orchies, sector 13, with 60km to go. Langeveld rode at the front, with Boonen sitting second wheel.

At 56km to go, on sector 12 (Auchy-lez-Orchies to Bersée), Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) went clear with Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal) and Dimitri Claeys (Cofidis). Again, Tony Martin drove the chase for Kristoff.

As the race approached sector 11 (Mons-en-Pévèle) — the second of three five-star sections — Oss and Stuyven remained in the lead, 16 seconds ahead of the three-man chase group, and 48 seconds ahead of the main peloton. Stybar rode at the front of the bunch, with Sagan closely marking him.

Across Mons-en-Pévèle, two became five at the front of race, while Sagan and Stybar opened a gap over the rest of the bunch. Boonen closed the move down, with a group of about 10 chasing the group of five.

Stybar briefly bridged across, but with nine cobbled sectors remaining, it was a group of 14 at the front: Van Avermaet and Oss (BMC Racing); Boonen and Stybar (Quick-Step Floors); Degenkolb and Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo); Langeveld and Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac); Jens Keukeliere (Orica-Scott); Bert De Backer (Sunweb); Moscon (Sky), Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal), Claeys (Cofidis), and Chavanel (Direct Energie).

A mechanical issue saw Keukeliere, who finished second to Van Avermaet at Gent-Wevelgem, drop out of the lead group.

The winning move

Oss accelerated off the front ahead of sector 9 from Pont-Thibault to Ennevelin with 39km remaining, and he opened a lead of 24 seconds. Stybar attacked from the chase group, joined first by Roelandts and Langeveld, and later by Stuyven, Moscon, and, most notably, Van Avermaet, who was able to sit on with his teammate up the road.

Sagan, who had been bridging across, punctured again, and was passed by Boonen’s group. Oss remained at the front, 25 seconds ahead of the Stybar-Van Avermaet group, and 50 seconds ahead of the Boonen-Degenkolb group with 31km remaining. Seven sectors of cobblestones remained.

The chasing group of six caught Oss with 24.5km to go, making seven leaders at the front: Langeveld, Oss, Van Avermaet, Roelandts, Stybar, Moscon and Stuyven.

Boonen’s group trailed by over 30 seconds as five sectors, including the Carrefour de l’Arbre, remaining.

Langeveld accelerated on sector 5 at Camphin-en-Pevele with 19km to go, dropping Oss from the lead group. Behind, Boonen led the chase.

Into the five-star sector Carrefour de l’Arbre, Van Avermaet attacked, drawing out Langeveld, and then Stybar, leaving Moscon and Stuyven distanced. This would prove to be the decisive move.

With Stybar sitting on, Boonen drove the chase across Carrefour de l’Arbre, 36 seconds back; Degenkolb followed, but Sagan was no longer in the mix.

The gap from Van Avermaet, Stybar, and Langeveld to the Boonen group grew to 50 seconds inside the final 10km.

Stybar, sitting on, attacked with 4km to go, but could not ride away, and a small group sprint was imminent. A bit of cat-and-mouse inside the velodrome allowed Moscon and Stuyven to catch back on inside the final 250 metres, but Van Avermaet could not be stopped, clearly winning the five-rider sprint to take his first Monument victory.

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) took his first Monument at the 2017 Paris-Roubaix.

“I had a little bit of bad luck before the Arenberg but the team really did a good job and everyone was in a good spot for me,” Van Avermaet said. “I think Daniel Oss in the end did a really good job to put me in the best spot. I think every small piece came together and that’s why I won. I felt really strong at the end and I was believing in myself and my chances and I was really happy that I could finish it off in the sprint.”

Stybar, who took a second runner-up spot at Roubaix, could only acknowledge that he’d been beaten by the better rider. “I am disappointed,” he said. “But on the bright side, I can be happy with the way I rode and with giving everything today. At one point I had cramps and thought my race was over, but I remained focused and made it to the velodrome. Ok, maybe I could have waited 50 meters more before opening my sprint, but Roubaix is always a bit of a gamble. It’s a pity I couldn’t get my first Monument victory, but this is just my fifth full road season and I’m confident there will be other opportunities.”

Meanwhile Langeveld celebrated his podium finish. “It’s a special sprint,” he said. “I’m not a track rider. A couple years ago, I came into the velodrome for second place, and it was special then. Now too. Greg Van Avermaet is the Olympic champion and a really fast guy. Stybar is always really, really good and he was sitting on for a couple kilometers. Third place was my spot today, and I’m very, very happy. Don’t forget that I’ve never won a Monument. I won Het Nieuwsblad, but…. I was seventh, eighth in Roubaix. A podium for me is a really high, really top result.”

Démare took the bunch sprint for sixth. Boonen, the four-time Roubaix winner, finished 13th in his final race as a professional, 12 seconds off the winning time. Defending champion Mat Hayman (Orica-Scott) finished 11th, in the same group as Boonen. Sagan finished 38th, 5:12 down on Van Avermaet.

Paris-Roubaix (1.UWT) Compiègne → Roubaix

ŠTYBAR Zdeněk Quick-Step Floors
LANGEVELD Sebastian Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team

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