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Johan Van Summeren wins 2011 Paris-Roubaix

Johan Van Summeren salvaged Garmin-Cervélo's classics season with a brilliant victory at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.

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ROUBAIX, France (VN) – Johan Van Summeren delivered the biggest win in his career and the most important since Garmin-Cervélo’s inception with a dramatic solo victory in the 104th running of Paris-Roubaix in sweltering, summer-like conditions.

2011 Paris-Roubaix
Van Summeren had plenty of time to savor the moment in the Roubaix velodrome. Photo: Graham Watson

Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) made a brave, late-race attack with less than 5km to go to claim a bittersweet second place in the 258km suffer-fest over the cobblestones of northern France, but Van Summeren rode away from the remnants of a breakaway that fended off the heavy favorites and drove home an emotional 19-second victory both for him and his team. Cancellara bridged up to a chase group and then won the sprint for second. Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank) rounded out the podium with third in a wild day that saw pre-race favorite Tom Boonen (Quick Step) crash out and when Garmin-Cervélo used all of its firepower to fend off the ever-powerful Cancellara.

Van Summeren bridged out to an early, 10-man breakaway after clearing the Arenberg forest. When Garmin-Cervélo team captain Thor Hushovd was still one minute behind at the decisive Carrefour de l’Arbe cobbles with 17km to go, he got the green light to play his card. The tall, lanky Belgian nursed a slow leak on his back tire in the closing kilometers to ride alone into the Roubaix velodrome to the cheers of a standing-room-only crowd.

“I was riding for Thor (Hushovd) today. The plan was to be up the road to help Thor, but when he still had not reached us at the Carrefour de l’Arbe, that’s when I decided to play my card,” Van Summeren said. “When I bridged out to that group, I could immediately sense that I was the strongest. The tactic was to wait for Thor, but I also knew I could be strong today. I will remember this race for the rest of my life, but it won’t change me that much. I know what I can do and cannot do. This is a big win for me and for my team.”

Cancellara looked to have the win in his legs, but got stymied when he tried to power away with 50km to go. Hushovd, Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC) hitched a ride. Garmin-Cervélo put Van Summeren and Gabriel Rasch into a big group that held a 1:20 lead going into 30km to go. A frustrated Cancellara knew it would be difficult to do it all by himself, especially with Hushovd refusing to pull through with Van Summeren up the road.

“I don’t know if I was the strongest today, but I know I had good legs,” said Cancellara, who was third at Tour of Flanders last weekend. “Garmin rode a good race. They were the strongest team today. Sometimes you cannot win every time. I know I gave my maximum today.”

The victory was huge for Garmin-Cervélo, by far the most important for since the team’s inception. Team manager Jonathan Vaughters expressed satisfaction to deliver the huge victory.

“By far and away, this is our most important victory. We’ve been knocking at the door of a big win like this years, and I am especially happy that a guy like Van Summeren wins,” Vaughters said. “He’s a guy who busts his butt 99 percent of the time for other guys all year long. He’s a rider who deserves to win Roubaix.”

Early break summer heat

There were no leg warmers in Compiegne for the start of the 109th edition of the Hell of the North. Mild, spring sun warmed the legs of the protagonists at the start, with the temperature eventually pushing into the 80s that would later cost everyone to try to hydrated. Several break attempts failed in the opening hour of racing as the pace was kept high. Ben King and Bradley Wiggins were part of early breakaway attempts that were foiled.

The day’s main breakaway didn’t gel until very late when a group of eight riders eventually grouped together ahead of the day’s first cobblestone sector at Troisville. In the group were: Martin Elmiger (Ag2r), Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun), Mitchell Docker (Skil-Shimano), Nelson Oliveira (RadioShack) and Simon Seubert (Team Netapp). Others bridging out to join the group were Tjallingii, David Boucher (Omega-Pharma Lotto) and Canadian David Veilleux (Europcar).

Crashes came early and often in the nervous peloton, with two heading home early in a spill heading to the Troisville cobble. Vladimir Gusev (Katusha) and Renaud Dion (Bretagne-Schuller) hit the deck and hit the showers early. Flats came often and early, with Cancellara, Haussler, Goss and Hincapie taking early punctures as the pace ramped up over the early sectors. With about 133km to go, Andre Greipel (Pharma-Lotto) blasted out of the bunch and gave chase to link up with the leaders. Following his wheel were Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) and Gorazd Stangeli (Astana).

Boonen, Chavanel double disaster

The leaders hit the “trench” nursing a 2:10 lead. In the all-out run into the Arenberg, disaster struck for Garmin-Cervélo when Heinrich Haussler and Roger Hammond both hit the deck with less than 10km to go to the decisive cobbles.

Haussler managed to claw his way back onto the back of the bunch just as the leaders barreled across the rough, bumpy sector.

In the dry and heat, the Arenberg was perhaps less treacherous than in past editions, but at Roubaix, the unexpected can happen at any turn. Boonen punctured his real tire in the early part of the trench. Incredibly, there were no teammates to give him a wheel. It appeared that Sylvain Chavanel did stop, but Boonen waved him on after already waiting for more than a minute for a team car to finally arrive. The race powered forward, putting Boonen at a distinct disadvantage at a crucial part of the race. Two Quick Steps finally regrouped to help tow Boonen ever closer to the fast-disappearing main pack. Boonen was at a one-minute handicap after coming through sector 15 at Bousignies.

Paris-Roubaix 2011: If it's not cold and muddy, it's usually hot and dusty. | AFP photo

It was double disaster for Quick Step when Flanders runner up Chavanel punctured after coming out of the Arenberg, and he eventually latched on to the Boonen chase group. Troubles continued just when things looked like they might be turning around. The chase group had some fresh legs with Vacansoleil’s Bjorn Leukemans joined up and they were chipping away at the gap to the lead group. Things went pear-shaped again when Boonen hit the deck on sector 14 at Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes with about 69km to go. Five riders went down, including Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Boonen, who landed hard after he flipped over a Rabobank rider who had fallen in front of him. Banged and battered, Boonen was slow to get back on the bike and all but waved the white flag. He went to the team car and told HS Wilfried Peters that he wanted to stop, but the team would not stand for its star rider pulling out early if his body could still handle the pounding. Boonen pushed on, but his chances of winning were more cooked than his legs would be on the velodrome.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Chavanel crashed even harder after sweeping through a round-about with about 65km to go. With that, Quick Step’s Roubaix was all but over.

Van Summeren leads the charge

As the favorites came out of the Arenberg, Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervélo) looked around and saw no one taking the initiative, so he decided to grab the race by the scruff of the neck. The big, lanky Belgian quickly found company, and seven riders linked up and quickly bridged out to the leading 10. With Quick Step’s race unraveling behind the main bunch, the heavy hitters were playing the waiting game about a minute back of the newly expanded lead group of 16. Four riders chugged out of the main group: John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad), Thomas Leezer (Rabobank), Gregor Rast (RadioShack) and Gabriel Rasch (Garmin-Cervélo). With 60km to go, the leaders held a 28sec gap on the four chasers, with the main group, down to about 80 riders, lurking at 58 seconds back. Another pre-race favorite, Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) went down with three others with 57km to go. Despite the summer-like conditions, the Hell of the North was living up to its reputation.

The chasers bridged out to the leaders to form a group of 21 at the nose of the action to bump and bounce across sector 11 at d’Auchy-lez-Orchies with 54.5km to go defending a slender, 1:10 lead.

Cancellara drops the hammer

2011 Paris-Roubaix
Cancellara had company, but got very little help.

“Spartacus” came to life on the five-star Mons-en-Pèvele cobbles at sector 10 with 49km to go. The big Swiss time machine surged to the nose of the front pack and dropped the hammer over the rough, decisive cobbles open to a deceptively brisk crosswind. The acceleration broke the back of the front group, which quickly splintered as it soon became a fight for every man for himself. Cancellara found company, with Flecha, Hushovd and Ballan digging deep to mark the wheel at the critical first salvo of the race. The main pack came out in dribs and drabs, with small groups of four or five riders desperately trying to stay in the game. How fast was Cancellara’s punch? The leading 21 hit the cobbles with a lead of 1:35. Three thousand meters later of bumpy cobbles, the gap had shrunk to 1:10.

Cancellara and his quartet hit sector 8 at Ennevelin at 1:20 down on the lead group, now shedding riders and down to 16. Cancellara surged away again, with only Hushovd glued to his wheel. Ballan managed to close the gap, but Flecha last the wheel. Now a trio, the gap to the leaders was shaved down to 30 seconds with 35km. The podium was taking shape. Behind, Garmin’s Vanmarcke shadowed a six-man bridge effort. With 30km to go, Cancellara saw through the wheel-sucking strategy of his rivals and sat up with 30km to go, signaling to his team car that he wasn’t going to do all the work. That opened the door for Flecha and Vanmarcke to join the Cancellara trio to form a chase group of 10 riders.

Up ahead, there was a similar detente. Van Summeren, perhaps the strongest of the leading group, had his hands tied with Hushovd chasing from behind. Hitting sector 6 at Wannehain, the gap was hovering around 1:10. The leaders still had a chance if someone rolled the dice.

Van Summeren makes his play

The Carrefour de l’Arbre saw the day’s final real battle shots of the day. Van Summeren finally surged free of a four-man group that had pulled clear of the leading pack. Gregory Rast (RadioShack) tried to mark his wheel, but Van Summeren could smell the finish line and hit the gap with 15km to go holding a promising one-minute lead on the heavy favorites. Behind, Cancellara and Hushovd came to life on the Carrefour, riding away from their chase group, but the move came too late.

Van Summeren held off his pursuers and rode into the famed Roubaix velodrome with ample time to relish his victory.

As the reality of winning one of cycling’s five “monuments” began to sink in, the lanky Flemish rider was stunned for the second time by an unexpected proposal from his girlfriend.

“She wants to marry me,” said the Belgian, who in keeping with tradition was awarded one of the race’s famous cobblestones as part of his 30,000 euro victory prize.

“Some people give a ring, I give a rock!”

2011 Paris-Roubaix
2011 Paris-Roubaix

2011 Paris-Roubaix

  • 1. Johan Van Summeren (B), Garmin-Cervélo, 6:07:28
  • 2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), Leopard-Trek, at 0:19
  • 3. Maarten Tjallingii (Nl), Rabobank, at 0:19
  • 4. Grégory Rast (Swi), Team RadioShack, at 0:19
  • 5. Lars Ytting Bak (Dk), HTC-Highroad, at 0:21
  • 6. Alessandro Ballan (I), BMC Racing Team, at 0:36
  • 7. Bernhard Eisel (A), HTC-Highroad, at 0:47
  • 8. Thor Hushovd (N), Garmin-Cervélo, At 0:47
  • 9. Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Sp), Team Sky, at 0:47
  • 10. Mathew Hayman (Aus), Team Sky, at 0:47

Full results