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But even Peter Sagan was caught off-guard by a “crazy day” on the pavé.
The three-time world champion managed to finish fifth, pipped at the line by Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) in the sprint for minor placings.
Ahead of Bora-Hansgrohe’s star, another Roubaix champion, John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), celebrated a return to the winner’s circle, winning a three-up sprint ahead of 2017 Roubaix winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Quick-Step’s Yves Lampaert.
Sagan lamented a moment of inattention that saw him miss the winning move in the 156.5km race from Arras to Roubaix.
“There was only one sector where I found myself at the back of the group,” Sagan said. “That was where they went away, and it was too hard to catch them.”
He found himself in a familiar, uncomfortable position — stuck in the group behind, eager to make chase to catch the leaders but constantly stymied by uncooperative riders sitting on his wheel. Lampaert’s teammate Gilbert helped to mark Sagan. Degenkolb’s Trek teammate Jasper Stuyven also followed the green jersey wearer to protect the break.
“Everybody was on my wheel,” Sagan added. “It was a crazy day. Everyone was nervous.”
However, Sagan should be content to finish in one piece and add to his tally in the points classification, which he leads by 81 points ahead of Quick-Step’s Fernando Gaviria. He was also encouraged that his Bora team’s GC leader Rafal Majka made it through the day without any time lost in the overall.
“We also had to work for Rafal Majka’s GC chances,” Sagan said. “When Rafal was caught up in two crashes and lost contact with the front group, all the guys put a great effort to bring him back each time. We can be satisfied with what we achieved.”
Majka finished with the group containing defending champ Chris Froome (Team Sky) and 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida). Going into the Tour’s first rest day on Monday, the Pole is sixth overall. He says the two crashes suffered in stage 9 didn’t result in any significant injuries.
“After both crashes, the Bora-Hansgrohe guys brought me up again and thanks to them I finished in Roubaix among the GC favorites,” Majka said. “Luckily, I am not really hurt, so everything looks good for the first mountain stages to come.”
On the other hand, Sagan saw firsthand how a GC hopeful’s dreams can be shattered. BMC’s Richie Porte was out of the race before stage 9 even reached the cobblestones.
“Richie [Porte] was very unlucky,” Sagan said. “It was a stupid fall, on paved road.”
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.