Analysis: How the favourites fared at Paris-Roubaix

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Philippe Gilbert and Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammate Yves Lampaert played the Paris-Roubaix finale perfectly on Sunday to give the Belgian team its second Monument of the season. Twenty-five-year-old Nils Politt delivered a sensational ride for Katusha-Alpecin, a team many have been sleeping on at the Classics since Alexander Kristoff departed.

But what about everyone else?

What will Peter Sagan be thinking after he came up short in his attempt to defend his Roubaix title? Could Wout van Aert have been more of a factor if he hadn’t been forced to chase multiple times in the early goings? And where was that aforementioned Norwegian sprinter, who seemed to be on resurgent form heading into this year’s Queen of the Classics?

Since Gilbert and co will get plenty of deserved attention after a successful Roubaix campaign, we thought it was worth sparing a thought for a few of Quick-Step’s hapless rivals.

Sep Vanmarcke: A mixed bag

If you had told Sep Vanmarcke at the start of this Classics campaign that he would suffer a late mechanical and notch a third career fourth-place finish at Paris-Roubaix, he probably would have shaken his head and cursed the cycling gods for another rough spring.

If you had told Sep Vanmarcke that while he was sitting in a ditch at the E3 BinckBank Classic, nursing a banged up knee, and wondering if he’d even race the rest of another rough spring, he might have have shrugged and said, ‘Really? Not bad.’

Sep Vanmarcke at Paris-Roubaix. Photo: NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2019

On the heels of an impressive Tour of Flanders ride in support of EF teammate Alberto Bettiol, Vanmarcke looked great on Sunday, following all the right moves to make it into the finale. He has always struggled to ease off the throttle instead of attacking at every moment, but he rode a very tactically sound Roubaix, and did not seem to spend too much time working at the front of the groups he was in.

Politt ultimately dropped the Belgian veteran at the Gruson cobbled sector, and then a bike change put an end to any hopes Vanmarcke might have had of catching the leaders, but on balance, he should be proud of his ride. That E3 crash derailed his Classics prep, and he still managed to work his way back into decent form for the two main events. He also looks to have evolved into a cannier racer at this point in his career.

It will be a long wait till next spring, but Vanmarcke can kick up his feet now with some positive takeaways from this Classics campaign.

Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet: Favorites come up short, again

The way Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) have ridden the past few seasons, they entered the Classics as top favorites for every cobbled race they started. As riders with similar styles in the Classics, they often find themselves battling each other on the pavé, but for the first time since 2015, neither rider scored a victory in either the main cobbled Classics or even the semi-Classics like Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

Peter Sagan at Paris-Roubaix. Photo: LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2019

Van Avermaet’s lull is going on two straight springs now. You have to wonder how much of that comes down to a lack of team support – Van Avermaet was conspicuously solo at the pointy end of several Classics this season and again at Roubaix – but maybe he just isn’t on otherworldly form like he was two years ago. Or perhaps he needs some tactical help: He did not react in time when Sagan and others jumped to bridge to Gilbert and Politt, and that was basically it for his Roubaix chances.

Most likely, it’s a little bit of everything for Van Avermaet. The upcoming Amstel Gold Race will be his last chance to put it all together this spring, but judging from Roubaix, Van Avermaet has a lot of work to do if he wants to still be considered a five-star favorite for his Classics objectives.

A lack of team support in the Classics is nothing new for Sagan, either, and you have to wonder how many more big victories would be on his palmares if he had a guy like Yves Lampaert policing chasers for him when he puts in attacks. For Sagan, the form seemed to be there in Roubaix, but he was in an impossible position as obviously the fastest man in the lead group with no teammates.

It’s worth pointing out, however, that Sagan still has a pretty big objective coming, unlike most of the rest of the Roubaix field. He is targeting Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the final Monument of the spring, later this month. Carrying form from Milan-San Remo to Liège was always going to be a huge challenge, so his Classics campaign gets an incomplete grade until we know whether he’s saving matches for a run at La Doyenne.

Alexander Kristoff and Wout van Aert: Keep rubbing that rabbit’s foot

He may have two Monument victories on his palmares, but Alexander Kristoff has never had much luck at Paris-Roubaix. That continued on Sunday.

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One flat and then another just as the race was heating up helped put Kristoff out of the running before he even had a chance to play his cards. It has become a bit of a pattern at this point. Maybe it’s bad, bad luck, or maybe Roubaix just isn’t Kristoff’s race, despite what would appear to be a Kristoff-friendly profile.

Van Aert endured plenty of rotten luck Sunday as well. He had one mechanical in the early goings of the race, and then another in the Arenberg Forest. After a gutsy chase back to the peloton, he crashed and was once again forced to chase. He soon made contact and then somehow had the energy to join Sagan’s move to bridge to the leaders.

After he ultimately lost touch with the leaders and faded from the front, van Aert has to be wondering what might have been if he hadn’t worn himself out chasing the peloton so much earlier in the afternoon. On the bright side, it was a heck of a ride in only van Aert’s second appearance in the race.

An exhausted Wout van Aert on the infield of the Roubaix velodrome. Photo: Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2019

Once the sting of getting dropped from the lead group wears off, van Aert should be proud of his race. And since few would question his bike-handling skills, we can probably chalk up the snakebitten first half of his race to a series of unfortunate events rather than a pattern likely to repeat itself.

We’ll be seeing van Aert tearing up the Roubaix cobbles for years to come.

Evaldas Siskevicius: The feel-good story

Remember that rider who made headlines last year when he rolled into the Roubaix velodrome a full hour after Sagan’s victory, as security was locking up the gates? After repeatedly refusing the offers of a ride in the broom wagon, Evaldas Siskevicius got his lap on the track at the end of the 2018 edition, but of course finished well outside the time limit and is therefore listed in the official results as hors délai.

The 30-year-old Lithuanian didn’t give up then, and he hasn’t given up since. He hung with the Van Avermaet chase group into the finale this Sunday, and this time, he arrived at the velodrome in the company of the 2017 champ, besting him in the final standings. The last rider home in last year’s race secured his first career Classics top 10 this time around, finishing ninth.

Evaldas Siskevicius on his way to ninth in Roubaix. Photo: NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2019

As a Pro Continental rider on a non-Belgian team, Siskevicius doesn’t get many invites to the big spring races, but he clearly knows how to make the most of his chances.

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