Niki Terpstra of Omega Pharma-Quick Step attacked 6km from the end of a thrilling edition of Paris-Roubaix today to win the Queen of the Classics and carve his name into cycling history. Entering Roubaix's famous velodrome with a gap of around 20 seconds on his closest pursuers, the Dutch rider had ample time to enjoy his victory. Giant-Shimano's John Degenkolb beat Fabian Cancellara in the sprint for second from a group that also contained the two other big favourites, Cannondale's Peter Sagan and Terpstra's team mate, Tom Boonen. Team Sky had two British riders in the top ten - Geraint Thomas, who was 7th, and Sir Bradley Wiggins, 9th.
Terpstra may be an unexpected winner of a race that saw attack and counterattack from the men expected to be the major protagonists, but he is a thoroughly deserving one.
On a warm, dry day in northern France that caused clouds of dust to billow up around the riders on each sector of pavé, first Boonen and later Sagan went on the attack, while Cancellara helped lead a chase that saw a group of 11 riders form at the head of the race with just under 10km to go.
At the Tour of Flanders last week, won by Cancellara, Omega Pharma-Quick Step failed to exploit their numerical superiority as the race headed towards its conclusion, missing out on a podium place.
With Boonen and Zdenek Stybar both in that group as Paris-Roubaix entered its final kilometres, the Belgian team could afford to gamble, and they helped check the pace of the group enough to make sure Terpstra's attack was a winning one.
"I feel happy, but really tired," said Terpstra said afterwards, quoted on his team's website. "When we came together in the last cobblestone section — at the end of the cobblestones — Wilfried Peeters told us if we go for the sprint we go with Tom. But, if you can attack, it's always good to open the final.
"So it was up to me and Zdenek to attack and they know I like to do it. So, 20 seconds later I attacked. It was the good one. When I looked behind me I saw there was a gap, so it was just full gas to the finish line. Don't look back, because that doesn't help. They will come back anyway if you check or not.
"Then, when I was crossing the finish line, it was just really special. I'm so satisfied. Finally I won a big one. We had a healthy, comfortable pressure from within the team to perform. The kind that motivates us to do well. We won a lot of races but not a big one yet. We wanted to prove we can win a big one. Today we really proved we are a strong team that can also win the biggest races.
"As for me, two years ago I was 5th, and last year I was 3rd. If you can finish in the top 10 here you can also, with a bit of luck, win it. Last year I was really close and this year I made it. Since I was a little child and I started cycling, Paris-Roubaix was the most special race for me. Now I won it. It's a dream come true.
"Paris-Roubaix is a crazy race, old fashioned, but that's why it's special and why I love it that much. It was really my lucky day. I think we're going to have a nice dinner with the team tonight to celebrate this great victory, and then I will enjoy my time at home this week with my family."
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.