Degenkolb Wins Paris-Roubaix
John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) has won the second Monument of his career and of this season. He has also become the first person to win Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix since Sean Kelly in 1986. The German bridged up to a late move and then took a seven-up sprint in the Roubaix velodrome to win Paris-Roubaix, the 253.5-km Hell of the North, in 5:49:51. Zdenek Stybar (Etixx - Quick Step) took second, and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team) finished third.
The riders raced under warm, sunny skies. After 30 km, nine riders sallied off of the front. They were Gregory Rast (Trek), Adam Blythe (Orica-GreenEdge), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Sean De Bie (Lotto-Soudal), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling), Pierre-Luc Perichon (Bretagne-Seche Environnement), Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), and Ralf Matzka (Bora - Argon 18). The break led the bunch by about nine minutes at 97 km, just before the first section of cobbles.
Sky, BMC, Giant, Katusha, and Tinkoff-Saxo Bank took up the chase. On the second section of cobbles, a large crash took down Stijn Devolder and Gert Steegmans, two riders on whom Trek was counting. Geraint Thomas, one of Sky’s protected riders, punctured twice, the second time just before the Arenberg Forest. Etixx-Quick Step had taken control at the front and drove the peloton, which meant that the Welshman would never get back on.
The Arenberg Forest did less damage than usual, but it did split the peloton into several groups. At this point, the bunch trailed the break by 5:50. Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) led the peloton out of the forest, and a regroupment occurred.
With 90 km remaining, the gate came down at a train crossing. About 30 riders slipped across the crossing before the train arrived, and the gate nearly hit French hopeful Arnaud Demare (Ag2r-La Mondiale). The race jury neutralized the front part of the peloton, and the field regrouped. With 80 km left, the break led the 40-strong bunch by five minutes. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) attacked, which prompted a reaction from Etixx-Quick Step. The wind split the field into echelons. With about 50 km remaining, five Etixx-Quick Step riders were in the first echelon, along with Degenkolb, Lars Boom (Astana), Daniel Oss (BMC), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank), and Ian Stannard (Sky). Riders such as Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Van Avermaet, and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) got back on. With 65 km to go, the peloton trailed the break by three minutes.
Twenty km later, Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-Quick Step) attempted to bridge up to the remaining escapees--Backaert, Saramotins, Rast, Gougeard, and Declercq. Twelve km later, Wiggins bridged up to Vandenbergh, but when Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) and Stybar followed the Briton, the Katusha-led peloton snuffed out the move. Defending champion Niki Terpstra (Etixx-Quick Step) attacked, and Van Avermaet, Degenkolb, and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) took his wheel. The bunch reeled in the quartet before catching the break with 21 km remaining.
Nine km later, Yves Lampaert (Etixx-Quick Step) attacked, and Van Avermaet joined him. Bert De Backer (Giant - Alpecin) attacked, taking Degenkolb with him. The German then set out on his own and joined the two leaders. He took over at the front of the lead group, which Stybar, Boom, Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge), and Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling) joined.
As the break approached the Roubaix velodrome, Degenkolb eased up. Lampaert went to the front to lead out Stybar. The Giant-Alpecin man charged into the lead on the final banking to take the Queen of the Classics. Stybar hung his head as he crossed the finish line, and Van Avermaet, who is becoming the Raymond Poulidor of classics, wept after the race.
Degenkolb was grateful for Giant-Alpecin’s teamwork, and he attacked when he did to avoid last year’s situation, in which Etixx-Quick Step was able to win by have numbers up front. “I am so happy with this win,” he said. “The team was so strong, and I received great support from the guys. Everything went perfectly.
“I chose the right moment to attack. I knew if I waited longer, the same scenario as last year would play out, so I went. I was forced to do most of the work because the others knew I am a fast finisher.
“I was able to stay calm and follow my instincts in the finale, as I wasn’t afraid to fail and that was the key today. The sprint was perfect. The combination of wins in Milan-San Remo and today is very special."
Thus ends the cobbled classics season. The riders in the cobbled classics will take a break before preparing for the stage races of the spring and summer. How will they fare? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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