Roubaix Roundtable: Rating GVA’s win; questioning Quick-Step tactics

How do we feel about Greg Van Avermaet's Paris-Roubaix win, and was Quick-Step's Boonen-centric tactic the right move?

Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix delivered 256 kilometers of dust and drama, with BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet sprinting to victory after riding into a three-man breakaway inside the final 20km. There were plenty of other storylines to follow. Tom Boonen bid adieu and Peter Sagan continued his losing streak.

What did we make of this dry, dusty Roubaix? Let’s roundtable!

Does Greg Van Avermaet’s victory go down as one of the greatest in Roubaix history?

Caley Fretz @caleyfretz: What? No. Not even close. It was a good race but the best editions of Roubaix are battles between favorites. Van Avermaet vs. Langeveld vs. Stybar, who wasn’t even thinking about winning until 4k to go? Nope. If Sagan or Boonen had been up there, perhaps I’d reconsider.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: Not the best, but it’s up there. There’s crucial element that boosts GVA’s win: The dude had to chase for like 25km during the fastest Roubaix in history! When was the last time (in the modern era, anyway) a Paris-Roubaix champion spent that much time chasing full-gas to simply get back into the peloton?

Andrew Hood @EuroHoody Baaaah — not even close. It lacked a certain “Je ne sais quoi” this year. Certainly great for Van Avermaet, who’s had one of the most consistent and dominant springs since Boonen’s imperial years.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegsNah. On a scale of 1-12 blisters (you know, on the hands from cobbles), I give this a solid 7. Fairly exciting sprint in the velodrome, but it was kind of a foregone conclusion. This wasn’t a true showdown between the top riders.

How did the lack of an early breakaway impact the race dynamics?

Caley: It made it even faster, and thus harder. It also meant that Daniel Oss’s move, which was the closest thing we had to a threatening break, was vital to Van Avermaet’s win. It allowed GVA to sit back a bit, and he used that easy(ish) period to launch.

Fred: There was no Mathew Hayman this year. All of the guys in that final move had been scrapping for the same number of kilometers.

Andy:  Speed, baby, speed. Tailwinds and a fastest-ever Roubaix made it impossible for anyone to ride away. This year’s edition was almost a like a mountain stage, turning it into a race of attrition, with riders simply unable to keep the pace. With 77 abandons and 19 ‘hors délai’ — proof enough of how hard the race was.

Spencer:  It seemed like the top riders were cooked from the hard pace and had fewer matches to burn, especially when we got to the usually decisive Carrefour de l’Arbre. Boonen tried a little acceleration to bridge to GVA’s group but no dice.

What’s your assessment of Peter Sagan’s day?

Caley: To answer like Sagan does at press conferences these days: “Bad luck is bad.”

Fred: You have to wonder if that breakaway he made at 77km to go with Jasper Stuyven and Daniel Oss makes it to the line if Sagan doesn’t puncture.

Andy:  Sagan was looking sharp, but he was torpedoed by two key punctures. With a Roubaix so fast, chasing back twice was too much even for Super Sagan.

Spencer: Between Flanders last weekend and the two flats and Roubaix, it’s really frustrating as a fan to watch him sidetracked by factors beyond his control. I liked how he was on the attack, but again we are left playing the game of “what ifs?” and as I mentioned in the first question, Van Avermaet was not up against someone who could truly put up a fight.

Stybar decides not to work with Van Avermaet and Langeveld in the final breakaway. What’s your opinion of this tactic?

Caley: It was the right move if you consider the team’s goal, which was a win for Boonen. Stybar said he almost went back to pull Boonen. That’s not a winning headspace.

Fred: Greg Van Avermaet is the fastest finisher in that group by a wide margin, so sitting on his wheel isn’t the worst tactic in the world. As we all saw it didn’t make much of a difference.

Andy:  I’ve never heard a rider so apologetic about doing his job and earning a podium. Stybar could take no solace in covering the move, which could have set the stage for a late-race Boonen surge. The pace was too fast for Quick-Step to try to bring up the heavily marked Boonen, and Stybar wasn’t thinking about victory until 4km to go. This certainly wasn’t the ending Quick-Step was looking for.

Spencer: It depends on what he was told — was he under the impression that Boonen was feeling good? If so, whoever told him was probably being disingenuous. If Stybar knew Boonen wasn’t 100 percent but still was basing his tactics on some nostalgic impulse to shoe-horn Tommeke into the front group on his final run at Roubaix, then that is a terrible tactic. Either way, as Caley said, Stybar was not racing with an ordinary mindset.

Who’s to blame for Tom Boonen’s disappointing final Roubaix?

Caley: He was a marked man and needed special legs to make it happen on Sunday. He didn’t have them. Not much you can do about that.

Fred: Boonen started firing bullets at 100km to go, and made numerous big accelerations on the front at 75km to go, and then some smaller ones over the ensuing kilometers. Too early, Tommeke! When the final group finally went up the road, he was empty.

Andy: Boonen attacked hard when he heard that Van Avermaet was distanced with an early mechanical, and Van Avermaet coolly waited for his moment. Tactics aside, Boonen simply wasn’t the strongest man on the day, and he was the first to admit that. No fairytale ending, but Boonen retires with style and grace.

Spencer: On one hand, perhaps Quick-Step should be blamed for smothering early race breakaways. A fresher Boonen on the Carrefour might have made a proper attack. But truthfully, better, faster, younger riders beat him, especially GVA.