I didn’t see any of Paris-Roubaix live this year. I was out on the bike instead. I promised myself come Sunday morning that I wouldn’t fall victim to temptation and make an excuse to stay on the sofa watching the Hell of the North. It promised to be a great race as Peter Sagan looked to salvage his spring cake and Greg Van Avermaet looked to ice his. As it turned out it was the later who came through.
By all accounts it was a decent race though I have heard it was far from historic. No Paris-Roubaix is bad but I got the sense when Sagan punctured for a second time, ruling him out of contention, some of the drama went out of the race. Tom Boonen was of course competing in the final race of his career but the four-time winner could only manage 13th. The fairy tale finish was not meant to be.
No shock though at the winner. Van Avermaet has been a level above this spring. Sagan has been unlucky on several occasions, but the Belgian was always able to capitalize. Philippe Gilbert stole his thunder at the Tour of Flanders but didn’t race this one. Still, across the seven cobbled classics this spring Van Avermaet won four of them. He took Omloop Het Niewsblad to kick off the campaign, followed it up a month later with wins at E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, he was second at Flanders and returned to winning ways in Roubaix. Throw in a second place at Strade Bianche too and seventh at Kurrne-Brussles-Kuurne and you see an Olympic Champion on form.
I like to keep a running tally of the spring races from Het Niewsblad to Liège. I use the Formula One points system of 25 points for a win, 18 for 2nd, 15 for 3rd and 12, 10, 8 6, 4, 2 and 1 for 10th. Each race counts equal regardless of its status. There are 13 in total, and we have had 10 thus far. As it stands Van Avermaet is on 142 points with Sagan in second on 76.
To put Van Avermaet’s spring in perspective, Sagan’s great spring last year netted him only 104 points and he had 122 points in 2013. Gilbert’s epic spring in 2011 pulled in 117 points. Boonen’s 2005 was good for 109 points. Fine work Van Avermaet though over the past five seasons (2013-2017) combined, Sagan stands on top with 394 points to Van Avermaet’s 349.
For interests sake I’ve also kept a tally of the great one-day race seasons of all time. There are 12 events in total that include the five monuments, the worlds, Het Niewsblad (Het Volk), E3, Gent, Amstel, Fleche, and San Sebastian. For balance I only included events that were around going back into the 1960s, hence no Strade Bianche, for example. With six of the 12 complete, Van Avermaet is on 118, good for 11th all-time going back to the start of the 1960s. (I should point out I didn’t tally everyone, only the 80 best seasons I could find though I doubt there are any that crack the top ten that I have missed). Van Avermaet is currently one single 4th place this season from moving into second all-time in name, behind those of Eddy Merckx. Currently in that position is the 1978 season of Francesco Moser. Merckx has five seasons better (’70, ’71, ’72, ’73, ’75) with 1972 being the best with a colossal 172 points. To level that Van Avermaet would need 54 points more. Two wins and an 8th place would do it. It’s unlikely given the nature of the races to come, but last years Olympics showed the BMC rider is capable on a hilly course.
So suffice to say Van Avermaet’s 2017 season thus far has been one for the ages. He has been dominant in a way that few before him have matched. It’s been a fine cobbled campaign to watch, a lot of drama, talking points, twists and turns. I only hope the Ardennes classics coming up can rival it in their own way. It’ll take some going though whether I’m lying on the sofa watching it or still getting out on my bike remains to be seen. Likely determined by my moral following a couple of upcoming mountain bike races!