ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Cannondale-Drapac manager Jonathan Vaughters stood alone in the infield grass of the velodrome, soaking in the view.
Against the odds, Sebastian Langeveld stood on the Paris-Roubaix podium with third place, the first Roubaix podium for the American franchise since Johan Van Summeren won here in 2011.
“I’m very proud for Sebastian, because he is a super professional for a long time now,” Vaughters said. “Personally, I couldn’t be happier. I started coaching him before the Tour de France last year, and we worked for 10 months for today. I am so happy it worked out for him.”
The biggest surprise wasn’t seeing Cannondale back on the Roubaix podium, but the rider.
Just 48 hours before the race, perennial podium favorite and off-season signing Sep Vanmarcke and Taylor Phinney both confirmed they wouldn’t be starting. Despite losing its Roubaix captain, Cannondale huddled for a team meeting, and refused to throw in the towel.
“Riding without Sep, it makes it tougher, but we made the best out of it,” said Cannondale-Drapac Andreas Klier. “Today we made a good ride as a team. If you put Phinney and Sep in, you would have seen even more green. We had a nice meeting yesterday, and the plan was not to wait. It was very fast. The attacks came all day long.”
Stepping into the void was Dutch journeyman Langeveld, a 32-year-old veteran who’s been racked with injuries and bad luck the past few classics campaigns, only to have it all come together Sunday.
Langeveld overcame an early puncture to stay with the favorites coming over the Arenberg and bounded into the deep-race cobble sectors. He astutely covered a late move, and suddenly had company at the front. A leading group opened up a 30-second gap to the chasing pack, and never looked back.
“I wouldn’t call this a comeback,” said Langeveld, whose career Roubaix-best was seventh in 2013. “I was riding strong all spring, and I had a lot of confidence coming into this race. … I had a puncture, and was almost out, but I came back to the front, and saw a lot of tired people. I attacked to get into the breakaway, and had a few good people with me. Then on the Carrefour, it was man-against-man, all the way to the end. I am very satisfied with this podium.”
Langeveld had the legs to follow eventual winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and stay with Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step), who was covering the move to try to wait for the chasing Tom Boonen. The trio came into the velodrome, only to have Gianni Moscon (Sky) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) catch them with a half-lap to go.
“I knew on the final sprint that it would be almost impossible to win,” Langeveld said. “I am very happy with the podium. I know Greg is very fast in the sprint, but I was hoping the others would be tired after the long day. Getting beaten by Greg and Stybar, well, they’re two really strong riders, so with third, it was the best I could expect today.”
Langeveld’s podium is no fluke. He’s twice been in the top-10 at Roubaix (seventh in 2013, eighth in 2014), and was fifth at the 2011 Ronde van Vlaanderen. With 33 monument starts in his career — he joined Cannondale in 2014 — his knowledge of the roads of northern France and Flanders is unrivaled.
Cannondale-Drapac’s jersey was omnipresent across the day, and Dylan Van Baarle had another top result, finishing in the lead chase group in 20th at 12 seconds back.
The Roubaix podium caps an emotional northern classics campaign for Cannondale-Drapac. With a blend of veterans and promising talent, the team was determined to be a player this spring.
The ever-improving Van Baarle delivered again, notched top-10s at Dwars door Vlaanderen and E3-Harelbeke, and just missed the podium with fourth at Flanders. Next year, he’ll see even more support. Vanmarcke was hoping for more after opening the spring with third at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and was riding in strong position before crashing at Flanders. And it was Langeveld who finished off the classics with the Roubaix podium.
“I love these races,” Vaughters said. “When I was planning and recruiting the team last year, it was the goal of winning Flanders and Roubaix.”
They came closer than many people would have expected against the classics powerhouses like BMC Racing and Quick-Step.