Stuart O?Grady became the first Australian to win Paris-Roubaix on Sunday with a epic ride on the legendary cobbles of northern France.
The 33 year-old CSC hard man had not won a race since taking Olympic gold in the Madison event on the track in 2004 but rode a perfect race in the hot and dry conditions that also gave him the lead in the ProTour individual standings.
O’Grady was part of the 31-rider break that shaped the race and then after a series of chases and splits, attacked alone 25km from the finish in the Cysoing section of pave. Clearly suffering, O?Grady grimaced in pain but dug deep and gradually opened a lead of a minute. He entered the Roubaix velodrome to a standing ovation and crossed the line with a huge smile as he took the biggest win of his career. After the line he celebrated with his wife, son and CSC team mates and was in tears as he collected his special cobble tophy on the podium.
Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) beat Stefan Wesemann (Weisenhof) for second place, 52 behind, with Boonen sixth and Roger Hammond (T-Mobile) an impressive seventh at 55 seconds after also being part of the early attack.
Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas) finished 47th at 9-39, after losing contact in the final hour of the race, while Steve Cummings (Discovery Channel) dind not finish after working hard for his team mates early in the race.
“The feeling I had when I came into the velodrome was the best of my career.” O’Grady said afterwards.
“Cancellara was our leader, but he was suffering badly and we agreed I should take over. When I decided to attack, it was on a little uphill and that gave me an advantage.”
“The heat definitely played in my favour. Being from Australia I’m much more used to this than the European riders.”
EARLY BREAK SHAPES RACE
Paris-Roubaix is usually shaped by the selection after the Forest of Arenberg section of pave after 163km of racing. This year it was an early break of 31 riders that created a different race, with the lack of wind and dusty, dry roads also a factor.
The 31-rider group eventually reduced to less than 20 and were joined by Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Lars Michaelsen and Matti Breschel (CSC), Sebastien Rosseler (Quickstep) and Bjorn Leukemans (Predictor). The group split again as they chased David Kopp (Gerolsteiner), Kevin Van Impe (Quickstep) with Hammond and most of the early attackers caught by the big name favourites. Magnus Backstedt and Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) were both dropped, and just after Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) cracked after two crashes.
Wesemann, O?Grady and Hammond went across to the Fleche group of chasers and then Wesemann attacked again at the start of the Cysoing section of pave. Boonen tried to attack and cross alone as well but was chased down by Hoste as the Flecha group opened a lead of a minute. 2006 winner Fabian Cancellara (CSC) punctured during one of Boonen?s attacks and never got back up to the chasers.
Koppe and Van Impe were caught 25km from the finish and then O?Grady attacked alone. The tough Aussie had been in the early break but then worked for Cancellara but was clearly on a great day and quickly opened a lead of a 1-10 as he bounced over the tough Carrefour de L?Arbre section just 15km from the finish.
Lars Michaelsen changed bikes but then crash on the Gruson sector of pave, while Boonen started a late chase. He got across to Hammond and Enrico Franzoi (Lampe) but was clearly not on form and was not able to catch the early chasers, who in turn were unable to catch O’Grady and stop CSC winning their second consecutive ‘Hell of the North’.
1 Stuart O’Grady (Aus, Team CSC) 259km in 6-09-04 (42.18 km/h)
2 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa, Rabobank) 0:00:52
3 Steffen Wesemann (Ger, Wiesenhof) 0:00:52
4 Bjorn Leukemans (Bel, Predictor-Lotto) 0:00:53
5 Roberto Petito (Ita, Liquigas) 0:00:55
6 Tom Boonen (Bel, Quick.Step) 0:00:55
7 Roger Hammond (GBr, T-Mobile) 0:00:55
8 Enrico Franzoi (Ita, Lampre-Fondital) 0:00:56
9 Kevin Van Impe (Bel, Quick.Step) 0:01:24
10 Fabio Baldato (Ita, Lampre-Fondital) 0:02:27
47 Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas) 0:09:39.