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ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Team Sky led Paris-Roubaix yesterday as if it was leading its star sprinter Mark Cavendish into a sprint, only he was at home looking after his new baby girl. The team was proud of its effort, which resulted in fourth place for Juan Antonio Flecha, but ultimately disappointed after missing the podium.
“No words describe the respect I have for Tom Boonen’s ride to win Paris-Roubaix. Class of his own,” Cavendish tweeted Sunday. “The guts Flecha showed were humbling too.”
Boonen dominated the race, but behind his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team, Sky appeared the strongest, with Flecha as captain. He has finished on the podium three times at Roubaix and has a string of top-10 results, but never a win. He only returned to racing last week in the Tour of Flanders, where he showed strongly despite breaking a bone in his hand in training five weeks earlier.
Sky put its faith in the Spaniard. The team led up to and over several cobbled sectors early in the race. Ahead of the key Arenberg Forest sector, it had a train of seven men leading the pack. However, Boonen and his teammate Sylvain Chavanel took control early in the key sector.
Boonen escaped 30 kilometers later and rode alone to victory. The chase behind fell squarely on the shoulders of Flecha’s Sky teammates, but the group could never get on terms with Boonen. Flecha scored another top 10, at 1:39 back.
“The mantra for Paris-Roubaix is always to keep riding,” Sky’s Matthew Hayman said to a handful of journalists inside the Roubaix velodrome. “Tom could just forget to eat or something. I know he’s a professional, but it only takes one thing, one puncture and 30 seconds are knocked off.”
Flecha rode straight to the team bus. He later emerged in the rain to say that he wasn’t disappointed, but he wasn’t happy. He and his teammates had been the only ones to organize a team effort to chase after Boonen escaped with 56 kilometers to race.
“That’s what happens when guys start racing 60K to go, people start racing for the podium and not for the win,” an exhausted Hayman said. “That’s up to them if they want to do that.”
Sky led onto the Auchy-lez-Orchies sector behind Boonen and his teammate Niki Terpstra. The chase caught Terpstra when he fell off the pace and kept pushing. The seven men grew to 14, with Flecha, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Hayman and an additional helper, Ian Stannard, in the bunch for Sky.
Hayman and Stannard did the bulk of the work, with protected riders Flecha and Boasson Hagen sitting third and fourth in line. For 25 kilometers, Paris-Roubaix boiled down to Boonen versus Hayman and Stannard, and Boonen was winning.
The Sky quartet looked to Rabobank, which was the only other team with more than one rider in the group, with Lars Boom and Maarten Wynants. But no help was coming. It wasn’t until Hayman and Stannard were blown that Boom attacked the chase group and tried in vain to bridge to the race leader.
“We hoped to get some help,” Sky’s sports director, Stephen De Jongh, told VeloNews. “It was impossible and Boonen was only gaining.”
“I don’t have to be disappointed. I’m not 100-percent happy, but I can’t be disappointed because five weeks ago, I had an injury and I was off my bike. I was training on the rollers,” Flecha said.
The forecasted rain that held off during the race kept coming down inside the velodrome. Flecha continued until the team’s press officer stopped the discussion early.
“The team has to be happy,” he added. “Of course, though, it’s not a victory.”