Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) leaped away from an elite group of contenders in the final kilometers to win a dry, dusty Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
Terpstra hit the Roubaix velodrome alone, 19 seconds ahead of the pursuit, and heard the bell as he began what amounted to a parade lap. He coasted across the line, both hands in the air, and drank in the cheers of the crowd.
Twenty seconds later John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) proved best of the rest, with defending champion Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) rounding out the podium in third.
“To take the win in the biggest classic of all is a dream come true,” said Terpstra. “It’s a race that suits me well. My shape this year was really good, so I was motivated for a good result. The team was good in the end.”
Degenkolb, too, was delighted with his performance. He celebrated as he won the sprint for second as though he had won the race.
“It’s the first time on the podium in a monument for me — I’m really proud of that,” said Degenkolb. “In the end, I was lucky enough to survive with the front group and also win the sprint. It’s just a great moment. Second in Paris-Roubaix and I’m 25 years old. I’m really looking forward to the future.”
Cancellara, predictably, was downcast, though he said that all things considered he was happy to have finished on the podium after “a hard final.”
“I’m racing for winning, nor for making second or third,” he said. “But in the end, you have to be realistic. It was a hard final. I look now for a nice rest.”
In the final 40km of the 257km contest the race had boiled itself down to a breakaway containing Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step); Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing); Bram Tankink (Belkin); Geraint Thomas (Sky); Yannick Martinez (Europcar); and Bert De Backer (Giant-Shimano).
Cancellara was in the first chase with a host of other contenders. And when Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) attacked, the defending champion lit it up.
The action from the chase trimmed the leaders’ advantage to a couple dozen seconds and about that many riders.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was next to try his luck, dogged by a passenger in the form of Maarten Wynants (Belkin). Ahead, a frustrated Boonen attacked the break, hoping to shed his passengers, who hung tight to his wheel.
With 32km remaining Sagan and Wynants were 20 seconds behind the break, and 12 seconds up on the Cancellara group.
Boonen and Hushovd were driving the break, but the race was slowly coming back together with 25km to go.
As Sagan and Wynants latched on, Boonen jumped again on the next section of cobbles, and De Backer went with him, but they got nowhere. Behind, a crash took down Steve Chainel (AG2R La Mondiale) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC).
Twenty-one kilometers out Sagan punched it again, opening a small gap, arms draped over the bars time-trial style as he blazed along the tarmac toward sector 5, Camphin-en-Pévèle.
Behind, Cancellara and Vanmarcke caught the front group and the chase began in earnest.
Vanmarcke, Cancellara, Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma), and Degenkolb were closing in on Sagan, making up a five-man break with 15km remaining.
“It was a very hard day. I had to change bikes three times and every time I had to chase to get back on,” he said. “I tried to attack before the Carrefour de l’Arbre [17km from the finish] to ride at my rhythm. But at the end I was suffering from cramps and couldn’t nail my sprint.”
The chase behind the five-man group was impressive, containing Boonen and Terpstra, Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas (Sky), Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin-Sharp), and others, just 15 seconds behind.
With teammates in the pursuit, Stybar was a passenger in the break. And the chase was coming up fast, making the connection before the penultimate section of cobbles.
Wiggins went straight to the front to push the pace and what now was an 11-man lead group hit sector 2 of pavé.
Terpstra was first to jump away, with just over 6km to race. And he pried open quite a gap as the others hesitated.
Thomas finally shot after him, but Terpstra was well off, some 14 seconds up the road, his mouth wide open as he drove along toward the final sector of cobbles and the Roubaix velodrome. A gasp for air would soon become a broad grin as he became the first Dutch winner of the “Hell of the North” since Servais Knaven in 2001.
“It’s been a while for the Dutch people,” said Terpstra. “Servais was a teammate of mine on Milram. I learnt a lot from him when we rode Paris-Roubaix together five years ago. I’m happy to close this gap of Dutch wins, it’s (been) too long.
“Since I was a little child and I started cycling, Paris-Roubaix was the most special race for me. Now I’ve won it, it’s a dream come true.”
In the 10-rider sprint for the podium, Degenkolb finished second, 20 seconds behind Terpstra, with Cancellara rounding out the podium in third.
“The wind conditioned the way the race went. In the run-in I thought about breaking away, but there was a headwind and the others were waiting for me to attack,” Cancellara said. “During the race I had to change my bike. (New Zealander Trek teammate Hayden) Roulston’s crash forced me to use up energy to get back up to the peloton quickly because there was a great battle. With Vanmarcke we tried to weed out the chaff on the cobblestones but in the end Omega’s tactics paid off.”
Vanmarcke finished fourth, with Stybar fifth, Sagan sixth, Thomas seventh, Langeveld eighth, Wiggins ninth, and Boonen tenth, all in the same time.
“I’m disappointed, my legs were perfectly fine,” said Vanmarcke. “There could have been more in it for me, I was one of the best riders in the race. I cannot blame myself, though. The headwind and the fact that nobody wanted to race, made it hard to win. When Terpstra attacked and took a 15-meter lead, I knew enough. The others hesitated and I didn’t want to respond again, as I had done that a few times before.”
Boonen, who was aiming to win a record-setting fifth Roubaix, was happy for his teammate, but disappointed that he hadn’t been able to contest for the victory.
“I’m obviously delighted for Niki, but when you put in all that effort, it’s to win for yourself,” said Boonen. “I’m angry with the other riders who were with me and refused to help but stopped me from getting away (alone). That annoyed me. I didn’t understand this lack of cooperation… I had a lot of bad luck. I punctured at a bad time and then my water bottle cage broke. And then, most of all, in the last 30km my gears weren’t working. It was difficult to ride under these conditions.”