Tag Archives: Paris-Roubaix

Van Avermaet completes one of the great cobbled campaigns

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!


Hell of a race at the Hell of the North

What a race it was. And we shouldn’t be surprised really. Not when the name is Paris-Roubaix and 200 bicycles are racing across a 257.5km course in Northern France of which 52.8km feature 27 sectors of tight cobbled and dirt covered farm roads. If they tried to invent this race in 2006 rather than 1896, nobody would go for it. And yet, the drama was unending. Few races are carried live on television from gun to flag for a reason, even the big mountain stages of the Tour de France see the peloton amble over the first two or three cols before starting to make moves with the action unfolding on the final climb. But not Paris-Roubaix; not yesterday.

They say the ones in which the rain falls and the wind blows and the riders come home caked in mud are the best. That is true as a spectacle, but yesterday proved a dry race in the dust can be just as thrilling. We had the sight of 257.5km of attacks, crashes, surges, splits in the field, panic, pursuits, selections, more attacking and finally a sprint for glory in the Roubaix velodrome.

By the time the race reached the Forest of Aranberg with 95.5km still remaining, we had seen numerous failed attacks, one that had thus far succeeded and a crucial crash that split the chasing bunch in two creating three distinct groups on the road. And most crucial of all, Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara, two pre-race favourites set to duke this one out after last weeks epic battle at the Tour of Flanders, were in the third group on the road and in real trouble. Especially considering the groups in front contained other contenders, one of whom was the great Tom Boonen. The upshot was, with so long still to race, a mighty pursuit across Northern France

The key to winning at Roubaix, beyond all such attributes of power, experience, control, nerve, timing, bike handling and brute strength — all of which you must contain in abundance — is little bits of luck to avoid the unexpected crashes or mechanical mishaps. Sagan and Cancellara fell foul to the former, both from the crash that split the field early, and for Cancellara in a crash of his own, just as the gap to those in front was beginning to come down, that left him out of contention. That Peter Sagan didn’t come down as well was a major testament to his attribute of bike handling, something we’re so familiar with. But isolated so far from the finish and with the pressure only ramping up as the two groups ahead merged, he would find the gaps too large to close.

So take Mat Hayman then and all those attributes to ride well here that he has built up over fifteen previous attempts, and then consider the element of luck. People think you need it to win here but the reality is that to win Paris-Roubaix you don’t ride your luck, you make it. Hayman got in the early break that succeeded in getting clear and as such he avoided the chaos behind him. At one stage with 80km still on the dial he surged clear of his own breakaway companions to lead alone. It might have seemed like a suicide bid, but perhaps it was his own way of staying trouble free.

He was eventually reeled in by that large group behind which contained four riders from Team Sky: Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe, Gianni Moscon and Salvatore Puccio, but just when it looked like the British team, still in search of a first Monument win, were taking control, two of their riders (Rowe and Moscon) came down on one corner, and Puccio on the next. Rowe managed to regain contact briefly but it left only Stannard as their best hope.

Stannard took that chance on a later sector, taking the setup by Rowe to surge hard and expose the tired legs in the group, reducing it quickly down to less than ten. Then a move by the ever present Sep Vanmarcke reduced it to just four chasers. With Vanmarcke eventually reeled in, we had the Belgian, Stannard, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Hayman, and the mighty Tom Boonen left from 199 starters with hopes of glory.

And there was no doubt that the high tempo of racing from the very start, the early attacks, the hard driving on the cobbles, the effort to avoid the crashing, to close the gaps and to ensure they were part of those left standing, had left us with five extremely tired men.

Paris-Roubaix however brings out the best in its contenders and rather than pace one another along into the velodrome, the five took turns attacking one another in exhaustion. Would the power of Stannard prevail, the know-how of Boonen, the cunning of Vanmarcke, the talent of Boasson Hagen, or the grit of Hayman? Each took several turns, some in desperate hope that their own exhaustion wouldn’t quite be as bad as the rest, but none had the legs to break the others and they came into the Velodrome together with a crowd roaring for Boonen to make it a record breaking five wins here.

But it was Hayman…he who was on the front, on his own, 80km earlier, setting his own tempo and picking his own line while the rest panicked to bring back splits in the field and close gaps to the wheel in front. It perhaps allowed his legs that little extra something when it mattered in the final 20km of attacks and when it really mattered in the final 200 metres when he opened his sprint and Boonene failed to come past him.

Few riders have deserved such a win more than Mat Hayman. Not because it was his sixteenth attempt or because he’s one of the old veterans of the peloton who has worked tirelessly for others down the years, or anything sentimental like that, but because he rode the race perfectly: Leading from the front throughout to avoid trouble, positioning himself to react to the right moves, and displaying all those attributes of power, experience, control, nerve, timing, handling and brute strength in abundance. And when you have all that you reduce the element of luck enough that the dream of winning a race like Paris-Roubaix becomes a reality for a 38 year old Australian; the second oldest in race history.

Paris-Roubaix result:

1. Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge)

2. Tom Boonen (Etixx – Quick Step)

3. Ian Stannard (Sky)

4. Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNI-Jumbo)

5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data)

6. Henrich Haussler (IAM)

7. Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Soudal)

8. Aleksejs Saramontis (IAM)

9. Imanol Erviti (Movistar)

10. Adrien Petit (Direct Energie)

11. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

in 5h 51′ 53″

all s.t.

@ 3″

@ 1′ 00″

all s.t.

@ 1′ 07″

@ 2′ 20″


Rider of the week:

Mat Hayman. Why? Well, if you’re asking that then you need to go watch Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. In the break for most of the day he survived all the splits, crashes and attacks to go ahead-to-head with Tom Boonen and other cobbled specialists for the win; and he won.
(Honourable mention to Alberto Contador who won the time-trial and GC at Pais Vasco).

Terpstra turns his good form into a huge victory at Paris-Roubaix

Here is a link that will show you what it takes to win the Paris-Rouabix. It is a ride by Niki Terpstra on his Strava account and it is his Paris Roubaix winning ride. The numbers are phenomenal and you only have to follow him on a daily basis to see the amount of miles he puts in during the winter to train for such a moment. That said, you didn’t need Strava to know that Terpstra had the form, you only needed to look at his most recent results.

In the weeks leading up to Paris-Roubaix, Terpstra prepared by finishing 5th at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on 1 March, winning the Dwars door Vlaanderen on 26 March, taking 2nd at the E3 Harelbeke on 28 March, and finishing 6th at the Tour of Flanders on 6 April.

And so much for those who thought a former track star turned stick-thin GC man like Sir Bradley Wiggins could not hack a power race like the Hell of the North. Wiggins was a part of the final selection before Terpstra made his move and finished with that group in ninth place. Perhaps disappointing to him personally to have come so close and not have taken advantage, but a superb result to mix it with the likes of Cancellara and Boonen and a sign of what he can achieve. He has said he’ll be back for more in 2015.

But the day belonged to Terpstra.  While the big money was on Fabian Cancellara winning his fourth Hell of the North title, or on Tom Boonen winning an unprecedented fifth, it was Terpstra who went quietly about building himself as a contender and turning that contention into glory.

The Paris to Specialized spring classic coming to you in 2014

Fear is rife among the 96,984 good citizens of Roubaix in Northern France that despite originating sometime in the 15th century, before the United States became a nation, that they may be forced by bicycle company Specialized of Morgan Hill, California, USA, to change the name of their town because the bicycle manufacturing behemoth actually owns the trademark on it.

That fear is spilling over from recent revelations that Specialized, formed approximately 500 years after the town of Roubaix, give or take, are threatening a small bicycle shop called Cafe Roubaix in the Canadian wilderness for daring to use the name Roubaix which they believe is owned by them for use on a line of their bicycles only. They have threatened the shop with legal action if the name is not changed and Roubaix, France (along with perhaps, Roubaix, North Dakota) is on high alert that they could be next.
Continue reading The Paris to Specialized spring classic coming to you in 2014

The unstoppable Thomas Boonen

If his victory last week at the Tour of Flanders didn’t quite cement his place as the worlds number one cyclist so far in 2012 and perhaps the finest classics rider of his generation, then his solo win — for the fourth time in his career — at the infamous Paris-Roubaix certainly did. Boonen has now won the Gent-Wevelgem and Tour of Flanders to go with his Paris-Roubaix win and he’s quickly making the accomplishments of Philippe Gilbert twelve months ago look nothing out of the ordinary.

Coming into the race a few had been critical of Boonen over the fact he only had to follow moves knowing that he could outsprint his rivals when it got down to the final two-hundred yards, but Boonen put that theory to bed when he attacked with 52 kms to go and rode solo to victory by 1-39 over Sébastien Turgot in second place and Alessandro Ballan in third.

Boonen won’t be any kind of favourite for the Grand Tours this year, it’s not his style of riding, but just as they are geared for a specific type of cyclist, so to are the one day classics races and Boonen is proving to be better at his discipline than anyone else is at theirs. Until you go broadly across the spectrum of cycling disciplines and meet the dominance of Chris Hoy on the track, Boonen stands alone in 2012.

Winning Paris-Roubaix for that fourth time makes Boonen the king of the cobbels. His previous victories at Roubaix came in 2005, 2008 and 2009 and it ties him for the most wins at the Hell of the North with Roger De Vlaeminck. Sadly De Vlaeminck was far from content to see someone level his record describing Boonen’s rivals as “third-rate”.

“I hope Cancellara participates next year, then we see a different race,” de Vlaeminck moaned. “I knew beforehand that he [Boonen] would be next to me [on the list of all-time career victories]. Tom can not help it that this time he had no opposition. They were not second, but third-rate riders.”

Next up is this weekends Amstel Gold Race followed by Le Flèche Wallonne the following Wednesday and the Liège – Bastogne – Liège the weekend after that to conclude April’s classics. Boonen won’t be racing at the Flèche Wallonne though who could rule him out of winning or or both of the other two. My money is on a big result at Liège. It’ll be fascinating to watch how the others try to stop him.