The Shot: Van Avermaet conquers Roubaix

2017 115th Paris-Roubaix: Race ruin, redemption, and reward

This year’s Paris-Roubaix, the 115th edition, was the fastest in history. The conditions — incredibly dry and dusty, unseasonably warm and sunny — were paired with the historic relevance of being the last appearance of four-time winner Tom Boonen.

The wind-up to race day had already been going full-gas. Since the spring season started, Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet was looking to finally steal glory in the cobbled monuments, Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. Meanwhile, Peter Sagan had the world watching as the double-rainbow defending champion in Flanders. Add to that, the imminent retirement of Tommeke, king of the classics, who had the media buzzing around him since training camp. Could he achieve the impossible and take home a fifth cobble trophy?

It is said time and again that the winner of Roubaix must have great form, superb tactics, and impeccable luck. Boonen’s take is perhaps a bit more about moxie, “Sometimes you don’t need a plan, you just need big balls …” Some might say the biggest challenge is to believe you can win it. Apparently years ago, Belgian journalist Hugo Coorevits looked at young neo-pro Greg Van Avermaet and said, “One day you will be there, on the top step of that podium [in Roubaix],” to which GVA muttered something along the lines of, “Are you sure about that?”

At some point he himself became sure. Maybe it was all the times he placed second and third on the pavé podiums in the last few years. Maybe it was bringing home gold from Rio. Maybe it was winning three other Flanders classics races in the last six weeks. Maybe it was the words whispered in his ear years ago. And maybe, just maybe it was “big balls.”

Key image specs:

Canon 1DX
Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS II USM
1/1250 sec @ f/5.6 ISO 320
Focal Length: 170mm
File format: RAW
Shot from the grassy knoll above the finish line