Fabian Cancellara of RadioShack Nissan outfoxed Blanco's Sep Vanmarcke in what was in effect a match sprint in the Roubaix velodrome this afternoon to win Paris-Roubaix for the third time in his career. The pair had been left alone at the front of the race on the Carrefour de l'Arbre secteur of pavé, where Zdenek Stybar of Omega Pharma-Quick Step fell out of contention after colliding with a fan who was taking a photo and failed to get out of the way in time. Stybar finished sixth, his team mate Niki Terpstra completing the podium in third.
Cancellara, odds-on favourite to win today, had put in a big attack with a little over 50 kilometres remianing of the 256 kilometre race that resulted in a big selection in the field.
He joins the absent Tom Boonen in winning the Flanders-Roubaix double in two separate seasons, having previously achieved that feat in 2010.
Two years ago, Cancellara, again starting as a strong favourite, had been marked out of the race, with Garmin’s Johan Vansummeren profiting to win with a solo attack from the break.
Today, RadioShack-Leopard rode hard to control the early moves and minimise the chances of a repeat of that, before Cancellara himself took the initiative by attacking from the main group with nine of the 27 secteurs of pavé still to go.
At that point, there were four riders up ahead on the road – Sky’s Mat Hayman, a top-ten finisher in each of the last two editions, plus Gert Steegmans of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, BMC’s Michael Schär and Damien Gaudin of Europcar. Their advantage was a handful of seconds, however, as they entered the final 50 kilometres.
Behind them, Cancellara’s push had split the already reduced field, just a dozen riders able to go with him, among them some big names including past runners-up Juan Antonio Flecha of Vacansoleil-DCM and Europcar’s Sebastien Turgot, second last year.
While the man who won 12 months ago, Tom Boonen, was out following his crash in the Tour of Flanders last week, his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team had a big presence among those still in with a chance of victory.
Besides Steegmans, the Belgian team had Terpstra, Stybar, Stijn Vanderbergh and Sylvain Chavanel all very much still in the race, while Cancellara’s push had left him isolated from his RadioShack-Leopard team mates.
A series of mishaps meant Omega Pharma-Quick Step were unable to turn that numerical supremacy to their benefit, however.
First, shortly after the break had been caught with 45 kilometres remaining, Chavanel punctured and had to change bikes. He would never rejoin the group that produced the men who finished on the podium.
One of his team mates, Vandenbergh, was among the next quartet of riders to attack off the front, the moving coming with 38 kilometres remaining.
Briefly, Cancellara, who had crashed twice during the week, the second time while undertaking a recce for today’s race, appeared to be in trouble as he dropped back to the team car.
However, entering the final 30 kilometres, with a group of eight having now formed at the front, any doubts surrounding him were dispelled as he rode strongly to bridge across to them.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Vandenbergh responded by attacking again, this time Vanmarcke going with him, but Cancellara would respond to the danger, Stybar following him and the pair joining the pair at the head of the race.
Heading into the Carrefour de l’Arbre secteur which began with just 17.5 kilometres left to ride, that gave Omega Pharma-Quick Step two of the four riders in the lead group.
Vandenbergh was struggling to hold on, however, and crashed as he made contact with a fan while riding along the verge, and moments later, just after the corner where Thor Hushovd famously hit the pavé in 2009, Stybar too came to grief as he found his way blocked by a spectator.
The collision robbed the Czech of a potential podium place and what would have been the biggest result of his road career, and the two-time world cyclo-cross champion needed all the skills he has developed in that discipline to keep himself upright as the collision sent him veering across the other side of the road.
Vanmarcke and Cancellara were left alone to fight it out for the win, and on the approach to Roubaix’s famous outdoor velodrome, which now has the town’s new covered track sitting alongside it, the RadioShack-Leopard rider tried to drop his companion, attacking just ahead of a traffic island, Vanmarcke fighting to get back on his wheel just before running out of road.
Entering the velodrome, Vanmarcke was on Cancellara’s wheel, but the latter, beaten here by in a four-man sprint won by Magnus Backstedt in 2004, wasn’t going to be outsmarted twice and went up on the banking to force the Belgian to lead out.
Vanmarcke did so reluctantly, and was unable to respond when Cancellara launched himself for the line to snatch victory – one that justified the very short pre-race odds on him, but which uncharacteristically saw him having to fight every inch of the way rather than time-trialling his way solo in the closing kilometres.
Just after the halfway point of the 256-kilometre race, one fancied rider, FDJ’s Yoann Offredo, riding at the back of the main bunch, had come down very hard as he hit the sign at the start of a traffic island.
Offredo, who had been looking back at the team car and was unaware of the obstacle until it was far too late, hit a 'keep right' sign and was thrown over his bike’s handlebars, his chin taking part of the impact as he landed. Though he was conscious, he was clearly in a lot of pain at the roadside, his day over.
At that point, a break of a dozen riders that included some big names including Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas had been swallowed up, with another dangerous group of four – his team mate Hayman, the busy Steegmans, past winner Stuart O’Grady of Orica GreenEdge and Clement Koretzky of Bretagne-Sèche – getting off the front.
That quartet hit the key secteur of the Arenberg, which arrived shortly after the 100-kilometre-to-go mark, with a lead of a minute and a half over the peloton, but that advantage was slashed by half by the time they came out they came out the other side.
As the main group headed through that 2.4 kilometre, dead straight, section of pavé, Thomas hit the deck for the third time in three Monuments so far this season, and as in Milan-San Remo last month and again in the Tour of Flanders last month, it happened at a critical moment.
The Welshman, who won the junior version of Paris-Roubaix in 2004, came down again in a second crash on a subsequent cobbled section some 20 kilometres later, that chute involving several other riders including Lampre-Merida’s Pippo Pozzato, French hope Matthieu Ladagnous of FDJ – the first of two crashes he would suffer today – and Astana’s Borut Bozic.
Another rider to have a day to forget was Hushovd, who punctured three times, and while he would rejoin that select group of riders that still had a chance as they entered the final 50 kilometres, the effort of having to chase back on each time would eventually take its toll.
Paris-Roubaix 2013 result 1 CANCELLARA Fabian RADIOSHACK LEOPARD 5h 45' 33" 2 VANMARCKE Sep BLANCO PRO CYCLING TEAM + 00' 00" 3 TERPSTRA Niki OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 31" 4 VAN AVERMAET Greg BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 31" 5 GAUDIN Damien TEAM EUROPCAR + 00' 31" 6 STYBAR Zdenek OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 39" 7 LANGEVELD Sebastian ORICA GREENEDGE + 00' 39" 8 FLECHA Juan Antonio VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 00' 39" 9 KRISTOFF Alexander KATUSHA TEAM + 00' 50" 10 TURGOT Sébastien TEAM EUROPCAR + 00' 50" 11 HAUSSLER Heinrich IAM CYCLING + 00' 50" 12 EISEL Bernhard SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 50" 13 WYNANTS Maarten BLANCO PRO CYCLING TEAM + 00' 50" 14 BOOM Lars BLANCO PRO CYCLING TEAM + 00' 50" 15 BRESCHEL Matti TEAM SAXO-TINKOFF + 00' 50" 16 LEUKEMANS Bjorn VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 00' 50" 17 CHAINEL Steve AG2R LA MONDIALE + 00' 50" 18 TJALLINGII Maarten BLANCO PRO CYCLING TEAM + 00' 50" 19 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 50" 20 VANDENBERGH Stijn OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 50"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.