Greg van Avermaet overcame a mid-race crash to claim his first 'Monument' race in a dramatic sprint victory at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.

ROUBAIX, France (AFP) – A week after finishing second to fellow Belgian Philippe Gilbert at Tour of Flanders, Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet overcame a mid-race mechanicals to claim his first ‘Monument’ race in a dramatic sprint victory at the 115th edition of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.

The 31-year-old Belgian outsprinted Czech Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) in the iconic outdoor Roubaix velodrome at the end of the 257km long ‘Hell of the North’ cobbled classic. With an average speed of 45.204 kph, this year’s race was the fastest of all time – beating Peter Post’s record of 45.131 kph set in 1964.

Sebastian Langeveld took third place in a sprint finish between five riders in the velodrome while last year’s winner Mathew Hayman (Orica-Scott) came home in 11th.

The win marks the BMC rider’s fourth triumph on the cobbles of 2017, which also includes Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem.

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Four times Van Avermaet has finished in the top four at the ‘Monument’ Tour of Flanders, including taking second place last weekend despite a late crash.

He was third in Roubaix two years ago – Stybar beat him into second behind John Degenkolb in another sprint finish – and was fourth in 2013.

But on the back of the greatest period of his career, Van Avermaet is now a Monument winner.

“I feel very good. I suffered a lot, but when you win, you forget everything,” said van Avermaet. “It was quite hard, Stybar was not working with us.

“I was just really strong at the end and really believing in my chances. I’m just really happy I was able to finish it in the end.”

However, it was a disappointing end to the glorious career of 36-year-old Belgian Tom Boonen – the joint record four-time winner in Roubaix – who could manage only 13th after missing out on the crucial break in the final 30km of his final race.

“It’s really a pity because he’s an exceptional rider, also an exceptional person and an exceptional friend,” said Boonen’s Quick Step teammate Stybar, who only started riding for himself rather than his team leader in the final 10km.

“It’s a pity we couldn’t bring him to first place but we did our best.

“We did what we could and it’s a pity he’s ending his career now.”

Several breaks tried to get away throughout the day in beautiful warm, spring sunshine but none could ever get very far down the road.

Early crashes affected some of the favourites as well, including 2014 winner Niki Terpstra, who abandoned after hitting the deck.

Van Avermaet had two mechanical issues just over 100km from the finish but joined back with the lead group without incident. It was his BMC teammate Daniel Oss who finally made a clear break, initially with company and finally alone.

He then proved a help to van Avermaet when joined by a six-man group that had gone clear of the rest around 32km from the finish when world champion Peter Sagan suffered a puncture that ruined his chances.

The lead group managed to get a 40-second gap to chasers including Boonen and 2015 winner Degenkolb.

But the decisive break had been made and on the Carrefour de l’Arbre cobbled section – one of 29 covering a total of 55km – van Avermaet, Stybar and Langeveld went clear.

They were caught by Jasper Stuyven and Gianni Moscon in the velodrome as they played a risky game of cat and mouse.

Moscon launched the first sprint for home but Stybar easily came past him before Van Avermaet proved he had the strongest sprint.

For former cyclo-cross world champion Stybar it was a second disappointment in Roubaix having also come second to Degenkolb in 2015 and he beat his handlebars in frustration as he crossed the line.

“Before the start of the race, I did not have in my mind to win,” admitted Stybar. “It was only in the last 4km that they told me to go for it.

“I did all that I could in the sprint,” he continued. “The race was very fast from kilometer zero, and my only hope was that Greg would be a bit tired, but the Roubaix sprint is very strong.”

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