Tour of Flanders champion Fabian Cancellara added the 108th edition of Paris-Roubaix to his palmares on Sunday. The Swiss strongman caught Tom Boonen napping with about 50km to go and shot away from the Quick Step captain and a short list of elite favorites to solo in for a well-deserved victory, his second on the Roubaix velodrome.
Cancellara’s triumph made him just the 10th rider in history to win the Flanders-Roubaix double, and he was delighted to take his place in the record books.
“Cycling has a long, long history. To be No. 10, and the way I won it, I am really proud,” he said.
“I knew that with my form and the way the last weeks have been going, the way that I went, that I had these 10 meters. I knew that when I had those 10 meters, they are going to be scared. Who wants to close this gap? They knew it straight away, they were racing for second place.”
• To see how the race unfolded, revisit today’s Live Update.
Boonen struggled to organize a chase, but nobody was interested in towing the three-time Roubaix champion to the line, and what should have been a pursuit instead became a series of attacks and counters in a race for second place.
Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) easily won that contest, two minutes after Cancellara had crossed the line, with Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) third. As for Boonen, he had to settle for fifth at 3:14, behind Cervélo’s Roger Hammond.
How it unfolded
The 2010 edition of the “Queen of the Classics” covered 259km from Compiegne to Roubaix, with 52km of cobbles in 27 sections, beginning at the 98km mark. There was a slight chance of rain, but an absolute certainty of wind — it was blowing at 22kph from the northeast, with stronger gusts.
After some 66km of racing a break of 19 riders had about a minute on the rest of the field, with another 40 riders trailing the main field by about 20 seconds.
That lead group included Maarten Wynants (Quick Step); Mikhail Ignatjev (Katusha); Jeremy Hunt (Cervélo TestTeam); Sebastian Lang (Omega Pharma-Lotto); Greg Henderson and Chris Sutton (Sky); Kasper Klostergaard (Saxo Bank); Matthew Goss and Adam Hansen (HTC-Columbia); Rick Flange and Tom Leezer (Rabobank); Yohann Gène (Bbox); Romain Zingle (Cofidis); Gorik Gardeyn (Vacansoleil); Roy Curvers and Mitchell Docker (Skil-Shimano); Inaki Isasi (Euskaltel-Euskado); and Jimmy Engoulvent and Stéphane Poulhies (Saur-Sojasun).
The break built a lead of more than three minutes before Saxo Bank moved to the front and started driving the pace for Cancellara. With 116km to go they had trimmed the leaders’ advantage to less than three minutes, with Saxo’s Gustav Larsson setting pace in the main pack, and Boonen parked on Cancellara’s wheel. Stuart O’Grady was there, too, along with Bernard Eisel (HTC-Columbia) and Lars Boom (Rabobank).
Into the Arenberg
O’Grady cracked the bunch going into the Arenberg Forest. Cancellara, Boonen, George Hincapie (BMC), Hushovd and Flecha were among the big names making the split. Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) was having a rough day after several crashes.
But Saxo Bank was not — it had five riders driving that chase, and the original break was down to nine riders and its lead slashed to just 90 seconds.
Cancellara punctured but never panicked — he took a spare bike and Breschel and O’Grady helped pace him back. Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack) and Martin Tjallingi (Rabobank) had a go while Cancellara was working his way back to the bunch, but got nowhere.
At sector 14 of pavé Team Sky took over the pacemaking, with Michael Barry driving it for Flecha. Boonen and Cancellara were there, too, as were Hincapie, Hushovd, Flecha — and, astoundingly, Devolder, who appeared to have rebounded from his troubles.
The crumbling break, down to Hansen, Wynants and Hunt, hung just meters off the front, riding at the margins of the cobbles, as the bunch approached the feed zone with 64km to race. Cancellara tested Boonen on the cobbles, but the big Belgian was up to the challenge, and their fencing finally retrieved the lead trio.
Boonen jumped with 60km to go, but that was a move destined to go precisely nowhere. And then he went again, powering away onto the cobbles of sector 12, with Cancellara chasing hard. The big Swiss caught him, trailed by Hushovd and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), and then Hammond counter-attacked. Boonen brought him back, and when the dust had settled there was a lead group of some 25 riders with 57km to race.
Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) tried a dig, but Boonen marked him. Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Sebastian Hinault (Ag2r La Mondiale) were next to have a go, but when 1997 Roubaix winner Frédéric Guesdon (Française des Jeux) bridged out to them the favorites quickly took an interest. Only Hinault remained out front as the race hit the next cobbled stretch with 50km to go, and that just barely — the Boonen group was content to let him dangle.
Then Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Leukemans shot away to join Hinault at the front — and shortly thereafter Cancellara took a flyer, too, quickly joining the lead trio and driving the pace over the cobbles of Mons-en-Pevele.
Boonen was caught out, back in the bunch.
“I had just done some attacks of my own and was sitting at the back of the group trying to feed and keeping a check on the riders behind us,” said Boonen, who won the race in 2005, 2008 and 2009.
“And then Cancellara just went. But you can’t argue with that. I would probably have done the same thing.”
Cancellara on cruise control
The Quick Step captain launched a belated chase, but Cancellara wasn’t waiting for him or anyone else. The big Swiss soon left his break-mates behind on the cobbles and powered on alone, with 21 seconds on his pursuers.
“There was always this battle, Cancellara against Boonen,” Cancellara said. “I knew that we would race against each other. I started to be a bit thinking, ‘OK, I don’t have any teammates left, there are a lot of other riders, it could be challenging to find the right moment.’
“He was also trying to make the breaks. For sure, I had to follow him. They were telling him to stay calm, don’t race his race, race your race. I started to think, that’s true. I was thinking he’s nervous, but maybe he wants to make the first selection. The question is what they wanted to do against me. I came across this section, I had some wind at the back. I wanted to make a small group. That was really, really important.”
Boonen began looking around for help, but it seemed that nobody was interested in helping him chase Cancellara, who faced 44 long, lonely kilometers — and nine sections of cobbles — before the finish on the Roubaix velodrome.
Hushovd came to the front on sector nine at Pont-a-Marcq, lending some horsepower to the chase. Hoste, Flecha and Hammond were, there, too, as were Pozzato, Leukemans and Hinault. Hincapie and Eisel had dropped out of the contenders’ group; the American would finish 29th, more than seven minutes back. Meanwhile, Cancellara set about padding his advantage to 35 seconds, then 45.
“I think when Cancellara went everyone understood pretty quickly that we wouldn’t be catching him,” said Hushovd, who improved on his third-place finish from last year. ”That’s why I’m really happy with my second place. I was really tired at the end, and wanted to save as much as possible to win the sprint.”
Boonen’s Quick Step chief Patrick Lefevere, disagreed.
“I don’t think Tom ever thought the race was over then,” said Lefevere. ”Even with a great Fabian Cancellara, it should have been possible to organize a chase given the quality in that group.”
Despite its quality, however, the pursuit was hardly a well-oiled machine. At sector eight, at Pont-Thibaut, Cancellara had nearly a minute on the chase. Boonen kept trying to flog it along, but he wasn’t getting much cooperation, and he had plenty to say about it afterward.
“If Cancellara attacks and I can’t follow him that’s fair enough. But I’m really angry with the way some of the other guys rode,” said the 29-year-old Belgian, who won the race in 2005, 2008 and 2009.
“At no time did any of them try to race and some of them, including Flecha,had already resigned themselves to racing for second.”
As a consequence, with 35km to Roubaix Cancellara had nearly 90 seconds on his pursuers, a gap he padded on the next two cobbled sectors. Boonen was leading on the cobbles, with the two Cervélo riders bringing up the rear.
Confusion in the chase
With 29km to go Cancellara’s lead was 1:45 and it seemed that whatever impetus the chase had once had was gone. After losing to him at the Tour of Flanders, Boonen had remarked that “if you give him a few meters, you won’t see him again,” and this was certainly looking to be the case. A few kilometers further along the road and the gap was more than two minutes.
“What more could we do? We rode flat out,” said Hammond. “You saw people missing turns. They were doing that because they were knackered. Quickly he put one minute into the best in the world. After 10 minutes we knew we were racing for second. We gave it 15km of chasing, and then we knew. He’s on his own planet. He’s in a different league.”
Sectors 6a and 6b of pavé were a dusty, noisy tunnel, with spectators three deep lining the roadside and the race leader surrounded by camera motos and support vehicles.
Behind, Flecha attacked, taking a significant gap over his erstwhile chase-mates with 23km to go. The hapless Boonen followed, dogged by Hushovd, in what was shaping up as a race for second place.
Boonen slowly dragged him back only to see Pozzato slip away, another escapee to be retrieved. Cancellara, meanwhile, was ticking off the kilometers, holding to a lead of 2:30 with 19km to go.
The Saxo man nearly came to grief 17km from the line on an upturned section of pavé, but kept the rubber side down and got back to business, his lead out to nearly three minutes.
“I had to keep it strong to the end because you never know what’s going to happen,” Cancellara said.
The final kilometers
Cancellara pounded along through a gantlet of screaming fans, dodging flapping flags and amateur cameramen crouched in his path. Behind, Flecha and Hushovd finally shed a weary Boonen, who had Hammond parked on his wheel.
Pozzato and Leukemans hooked up with Boonen and Hammond and with 10km to go the quartet trailed Flecha and Hushovd by a minute and Cancellara by nearly three and a half minutes.
Cancellara took a lead of just under three minutes into the final 5km. Flecha and Hushovd were making progress, but not quickly enough. They still trailed the leader by 2:27 as he entered the final kilometer and headed for the velodrome.
The bell rang and the smiling Swiss rolled casually around the track, straightening his jersey, thrusting both fists in the air, and then clutching his helmet with both hands as though he couldn’t believe what he’d just done.
“I need some time to realize what I have really accomplished. It’s been an amazing week,” Cancellara said. “I am going tonight to a party with a team. I want to enjoy and celebrate this, especially with this group. For the moment. Liège and Lombardia, no way I am thinking about something else. Right now I want to enjoy this moment.” — Andrew Hood, Neal Rogers, Patrick O’Grady and Agence France Presse contributed to this story.