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ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Tour de France winners have taken home the cobblestone trophy from Paris-Roubaix before, but none of them has had Sir in front of his name. Bradley Wiggins dodged all the pitfalls at “The Hell of the North” Sunday to have that chance, but could not follow the race-winning acceleration when he needed.
“I’ve gone from team pursuit, individual pursuit, Madison world champion, Tour de France winner, top 10 in Paris-Roubaix,” Wiggins said. “I’ve always been a jack of all [trades], and today confirms that.”
Instead of adding a knighted Briton to its winners’ list, Paris-Roubaix added another Dutchman on Sunday. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) fired away solo with 6.2 kilometers to race and won in Roubaix’s velodrome with a 20-second advantage. Wiggins finished ninth, in the group behind the winner, and his Sky teammate Geraint Thomas took seventh.
Wiggins sat on the infield’s grass after the 257-kilometer finale of the cobbled classics, caught his breath, and spoke to his wife. After he showered, he met the press at the door to Sky’s bus.
“It was a real honor to be in the final, going past Tom Boonen on the Carrefour [de l’Arbre cobbled sector] was special, and then to come on the velodrome in a group with riders like [Fabian] Cancellara. To be there was great. It gave me confidence that I can do it now and match those guys,” Wiggins said. “To go top 10 is a good result; there are not many Tour de France winners who’ve been top 10 in Paris-Roubaix. On a personal note it’s a nice thing.”
Wiggins won almost every major stage race en route to his 2012 Tour de France victory. He went on to claim a time trial gold at the London Olympics later that summer. It confirmed his transition from track to road hero. It also helped him earn that title of Sir Bradley.
This winter, though, few thought he could seriously challenge for a Paris-Roubaix victory after he announced that the “Queen of the Classics” would be a major target. Even ahead of the race this morning, he only had two big one-day races in his legs and carried 44:1 odds. Three-time winner Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) carried the best odds, at just under 3:1.
Wiggins survived “The Hell of the North,” however. He covered the cobbled sectors, 51.1 kilometers’ worth, and rose to the top. He rode into the final 20km with an 11-man group that included Thomas, three Omega Pharma riders (Terpstra, Boonen, and Zdenek Stybar), Cancellara, Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin), and John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
“You really have to commit, go into those cobbled sectors and close your eyes,” Wiggins said. “You have to have the legs, as well. Even Tom Boonen today, when I caught him on the Carrefour, he was hanging on with what he had. In the final, too, guys were just stopping, really. You saw how big the group was, 50 or so, and how it whittled down in the final sectors.”
Wiggins relied on Thomas to draw away the attention. The Welshman joined Boonen and a handful of others for an escape that lasted 40km. Once the others caught him, with 20km to go and Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen behind, Wiggins had his turn.
“I felt fantastic when the two groups came together at 10 kilometers out. I attacked, and then after that, I don’t know really, I just felt out-numbered,” Wiggins said. “And the run-in was quite fast in the last five kilometers. Terpstra played it perfectly with Stybar and Boonen.”
Wiggins would not allow his rivals such freedom in the 2012 Tour, where Sky suffocated the race and delivered the then-32-year-old to Great Britain’s first-ever maillot jaune. However, given his underdog status — and three-year absence from the race — ninth place at Roubaix appeared to suit him. Wiggins said he would come back again and try to win; first though, a rest, the Amgen Tour of California, and a push to make Sky’s Tour team.