Van Avermaet Wins Paris-Roubaix
Van Avermaet, who has had a glorious Spring Classics campaign with three UCI WorldTour wins in the Belgian Classics, was hungry to be celebrated on the top step of the Paris-Roubaix podium after finishing second at last weekend's Tour of Flanders.
The race was not without its ups and downs for Van Avermaet, but solid work from his BMC Racing Team put Van Avermaet into the right position heading into the finale.
With a strong tailwind and sunny, hot and dry conditions, large crowds of spectators witnessed a fast start to racing. Repeated attempts to form a breakaway group were eliminated by the peloton before three riders were finally granted right to form a breakaway group and break free of the peloton after almost 100 kilometers of intense riding.
Mean crashes continued to split the peloton, but Van Avermaet was well-protected at the front of the bunch along with leaders of competing teams, including Tom Boonen (Quick Step Floors Team), Peter Sagan (Team Bora-Hansgrohe) and Dylan van Baarle (Team Cannondale-Drapac).
With the help of his teammates Van Avermaet returned to the race car for a bike adjustment and was caught in a bottle neck on his return, eventually needing a new bike and losing time on the bunch on pave sector 20.
Brilliant teamwork saw Van Avermaet slowly claw back the time and with 85 kilometers of racing left, Van Avermaet rejoined the leaders. At that moment, teammate Daniel Oss went clear with Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Peter Sagan and Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe).
The four riders forged on ahead creating the perfect situation for Van Avermaet, who was able to sit back and let other teams chase down the lead group.
A rear flat for Sagan left Oss and Stuyven in front and Oss' incredible strength saw him go solo with 38 kilometers remaining after Van Avermaet's group had bridged the gap.
A small selection from Van Avermaet's group went clear, powerfully animated by Team Cannondale-Drapac's Sebastian Langeveld, and as they caught Oss with 24 kilometers remaining, Oss put the hammer down for Van Avermaet, thereby emptying his final energy reserves in support of his team leader.
With just three cobble sections to go, a trio consisting of Van Avermaet, Zdenek Stybar (Team Quickstep Floors) and Sebastian Langeveld had formed at the front and looked set to battle for the overall race victory.
With team leader Boonen chasing behind, Stybar did not take any turns at the front of the group and the hard work was delivered by Van Avermaet and Langeveld, who delivered a remarkable and admirable performance. At times it looked as if he was about to burst from exhaustion, but in a performance worthy of legends, Langeveld fought on for his Cannondale team, refusing to give in on the Paris-Roubaix battlefield.
The trio battled to stay in front and as they reached the famous velodrome it was a game of cat and mouse. With the chasers entering soon after and endangering the trio fight for the victory, the sprint was initiated and it was Van Avermaet who had the legs and strength to take the honors in a thrilling win. Stybar finished second, ahead of Langeveld.
"I felt very good all day even though I suffered a lot, but with the victory now I don’t feel the pain. Stybar did not work on the end and I had to draw on my reserve to win. I am really happy to have done a good sprint and won Paris-Roubaix," Van Avermaet said after being celebrated on the podium.
"I was a bit afraid of Stybar, because he had not been working with us, but then the sprint felt really good and I was really fast after this kind of a long race. I was really confident in my sprint because I have sprinted several times from a small group," Van Avermaet told Roadcycling.com. "At the end of a hard race I'm always one of the fastest guys. I went onto the track with the thought that I was going to win. I'm really happy to win my first Monument because I have had to wait a really long time to finally get on the big spot of the podium."
"The race was full-on the whole day. There was not a moment that the peloton stopped, so it was a really fast edition of Paris-Roubaix. There were a lot of tired riders already with 50, 60 kilometers to race. For sure I was also tired, but I knew I had good legs," Langeveld explained to Roadcycling.com.
"I had one bad moment in the race, I don’t know what sector, where I had a flat tire. I was almost out of the race, but I came back and I saw a lot of tired people. That’s when I believed and from there it was race on. I attacked to get into the breakaway. I got a couple good people with me. I attacked again on Carrefour. It was man-against-man there," Langeveld added.
"It’s disappointing to finish runner-up, but on the bright side I can be happy with the way I rode and with giving everything today. At one point I had cramps and thought my race was over, but I remained focused and made it to the velodrome. Maybe I could have waited 50 meters more before opening my sprint, but Roubaix is always a bit of a gamble. It’s a pity I couldn’t get my first Monument victory today, but this is just my fifth full road season and I’m confident there will be other opportunities for me," Stybar said.
Four-time Paris-Roubaix winner Tom Boonen finished his final Paris-Roubaix race in thirteenth position after contesting a duel-like event with Peter Sagan who was impaired by bad luck at crucial moments of the race, but also lacked the persistent power needed to compete at the very front of today's monument race.
"The last few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions for me, but I’m telling you that I wouldn’t have imagined such incredible race moments this morning. These fans are fantastic and I want to thank them for being by my side in the past 15 years. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking of my retirement today, I was all in for the victory. It was only at the 5 km-to-go mark that I began thinking these are the last kilometers of my career," Boonen concluded.