Phillipe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) outsprinted Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) to win his first Paris-Roubaix after a fast, windy race, Sunday. His experience and strength allowed him to maneuver Politt into leading around the velodrome, and kicked past the German with 200 meters to go and win by several lengths.
Fellow Quick-Step man Yves Lampaert took third, having been pivotal in enabling Gilbert to split the final breakaway and shed dangermen Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First). Sagan came home in fourth. Having looked dangerous and aggressive through the race, his legs left him in the final 10km, still not looking quite his best following his Tirenno-Adriatico illness.
“It’s hard to believe it. I’m happy,” said Gilbert, who was instrumental in drawing out the final selection.”Its really special. It was a really daring attack and it came off.”
The race was dry and battered by a strong northerly wind, which made the race that bit more intense as the bunch split and came back together several times in the first half of the race.
In the first three hours of racing, there were two large splits with key men at the front each time. However, the race was back together with 100 kilometers to go, at which point the key pavé sectors approached, with the infamous Trouee d’Arenberg falling first.
A run of bad luck for pre-race favorite Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) commenced through the five-star sector, as he mounted the grass and was dropped from the bunch. Once he was back on the pavement and chasing, he got a bike change, then immediately crashed, losing more time.
The decisive action kicked off with 65km to go. The attrition of the cobbles had reduced the front group to around 40 riders, with all the big hitters present save Van Aert, who was one minute back and chasing after his earlier misfortunes, Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates), who was around two minutes back, and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal), who had abandoned.
On cobbled sector number 14 – from Beuvry to Orchies – Politt attacked and drew out Gilbert, Rudiger Selig (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Wesley Kreder (Wanty-Gobert), and they soon took 15 seconds on the reduced peloton. 15km later, Gilbert was the last of the quartet remaining and was the sole man out front of the race.
Sagan led the chase to regroup with the Quick-Step man, bringing Politt, Van Aert, Vanmarcke, Lampaert, Christophe Laporte (Confidis-Solutions Credits) and Marc Sarreau (Groupama-FDJ) with him. This group of eight led the race going into the five-star sector at Mons-en-Pevele.
Behind, the peloton was rapidly losing ground and was soon 40 seconds back, with Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) looking anxious to chase. However, with Stybar stifling the momentum for Quick-Step, and Sebastien Langeveld (EF-Education First) doing the same for Vanmarke, he was unable to gain any time.
As the cobbled sectors came thick and fast, the group soon dropped to six, with just Gilbert, Lampaert, Van Aert, Vanmarcke, Sagan, and Politt remaining.
With two Quick-Step riders in the move, the Belgian superteam again had the advantage, much as they have had through much of the classics season. They started playing their cards with 30km to go, with Gilbert accelerating off the front, with Sagan and Politt following. Lampaert slowed the chase for Vanmarcke and Van Aert. Once the Belgian champion had disrupted long enough to give the lead trio a clear gap, he set off in pursuit, dropping Van Aert, who was clearly fatigued from his chase after the Arenberg.
Gilbert and Lampaert worked their team advantage through the cobbles of the Carrefour de L’Arbre, taking turns to attack and wear down Sagan, Vanmarcke, and Politt.
Politt remained strong and attacked when the racing was back on the pavement, and Gilbert shadowed, and the pair built a gap. Behind, Sagan was clearly suffering, and Vanmarcke, riding a teammates bike, was struggling with a mechanical.
In the final 10km, it was clear the race would come down to Politt and Gilbert, and, safe in the knowledge he had Lampaert behind, the Belgian was able to let Politt do the majority of the work. The pair went into the velodrome together, and from thereon, it seemed all-but-certain that Gilbert’s vast experience would win out.
“I still have this dream of winning all five monuments,” said Gilbert after the race, who has now won all the monuments except for Milano-Sanremo. “It’s a bit of a crazy dream that has inspired me for ten years and little by little I’m getting closer to it. I feel great pride today. When I decided to take on this challenge three years ago, many people told me the cobbles weren’t for me. I’ve won the Tour of Flanders and now Paris-Roubaix. I was able to transform my qualities as a puncheur. Now, I’m a different rider and I’m very happy to have done it. I’m not afraid of long attacks.”
With his victory, Gilbert continues Quick-Step’s stranglehold on the classics, which began all the way back at the ‘opening weekend’ with Zdenek Stybar’s win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.