Road

‘A Roubaix not seen in years’

The 115th edition Paris-Roubaix offered all the thrills, chills and spills to be expected from the 'Queen of the Classics' – and then some.

ROUBAIX, France (VN) — BMC Racing celebrated in the green grassy center of Paris-Roubaix’s finishing velodrome Sunday, but most were standing in the adjacent streets soaked with shower run-off scratching their heads about what they just saw.

The statisticians quickly calculated the 115th Paris-Roubaix to be the fastest in history at 45.204kph (or 28.088 mph). It topped the 1964 edition, the year Dutchman Peter Post won. That year, however, they covered fewer cobbled sectors after starting from Paris. Now, the race begins further north, closer to the run-down industrial town of Roubaix.

“It was a Roubaix not seen in many years,” Nico Verhoeven, the sports director for Dutch team LottoNL-Jumbo said in sun-soaked, 74-degree Fahrenheit afternoon.

“I haven’t seen one like that in all my years. It was always full-gas and no time to rest or re-enter after a puncture.”

[pullquote align=“left” attrib=”Nico Verhoeven, LottoNL-Jumbo sports director”]”It was a Roubaix not seen in many years … always full-gas and no time to rest or re-enter after a puncture.”[/pullquote]

Overnight, organizer ASO made the late move to postpone the race start by 20 minutes due to the tailwind predicted and their concern of the precious television time.

The viewers turned into see escape after escape that faded as fast as it formed. Only the first cobble sector — 97 kilometers into the 257-kilometer monument — bucked the trend. Then the lead cars and cyclists kicked up so must dust that had settled in the past dry and sunny days.

“It was very fast right from the start,” said race winner Greg van Avermaet. “A break never went away, there was never a pee break. The tailwind made for a very fast race, and a hard race.”

Ian Stannard normally stops in the Roubaix velodrome infield to rest and speak to journalists immediately. He rode head down, dust collected around his nostrils and mouth, directly to his team Sky bus for a shower.

It had been a tough Roubaix for Stannard, who placed third in 2016. He punctured and failed to see the sharp end, but felt the record speeds taking their toll.

“It was a fast race, it took a long time for the break to go and then it was only two guys,” Stannard said. “It was super fast, the fastest ever. That was probably the reason behind it, as well.”

Of course, the 115th edition will be remembered for Tom Boonen. The Belgian raced his last race today and for a record fifth win. He already had four trophies and sat tied with 1970s and 1980s star Roger De Vlaeminck.

Boonen’s Quick-Step Floors teammate Zdenek Stybar escaped with around 35 kilometers to race with Van Avermaet and others. He fought with Van Avermaet to place second. Boonen managed only 13th and left frustrated.

He saw what many noted: short-range shots instead of long missile launches from the stars. Boonen went long in other years, like in 2012 from around 55 kilometers out.

“Some guys were always on my wheels…,” Boonen said with a shake of his head. “I think that John Degenkolb did the most cowardly race by only focusing on me.”

Quick-Step team boss, Patrick Lefevere added, “Some men rode like such little children that they could only lose.”

“We never knew what to do with our leaders John Degenkolb or Jasper Stuyven,” Trek-Segafredo sports director Dirk Demol said.

Demol did not blame his rider Degenkolb for following at times, but the whole of the ragged peloton that soldiered over the dusty cobbles into Roubaix,” because everyone was looking at Tom Boonen.”