Let’s catch our breath
Blimey, that was eventful.
When Eurosport announced they were going to show the entire of Paris-Roubaix live, I was one of the many who thought it’d be fine to miss the first three hours and catch it around lunchtime when it normally gets exciting.
But luckily I was struck by my journalistic responsibility and watched pretty much all of it, and I’m glad I did.
The race was pretty much decided way before the riders even reached the Arenberg trench, with a crash splitting the peloton and seeing Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan distanced in the third group on the road.
Then there was the attempt to catch up by Cancellara and Sagan, then Cancellara’s crash that effectively ended Sagan’s chances as well.
The cat and mouse played among the final five riders, including a storming performance from Ian Stannard kept me on the edge of my seat and I had pretty much fallen off it by the time they crossed the line in the velodrome.
I need a lie down…
Watch highlights of Paris-Roubaix 2016
Etixx-Quick Step used Tony Martin to great effect
Having won the cobbled stage in the 2015 Tour de France, there was a lot of talk about Tony Martin being a favourite for this race – and he could have been if a poor Katusha rider hadn’t crashed on the cobbles.
Alexander Porsev was the one who hit the deck and caused the decisive split in the peloton with 110km to go.
Martin was on the front at the time and never looked back, putting the hammer down to extend his group’s lead over Cancellara and Sagan to over a minute, all in the name of teammate Tom Boonen.
Boonen was the only other Etixx-Quick Step rider in the front group, which contained a good number from Sky and LottoNL-Jumbo, but the Belgian team knew this was their chance to take control of the race.
And there’s no better man to turn to if you want to take control than Martin, who took a 25km turn on the front to end any chance of the chasers getting back.
He pushed so hard over the Haveluy cobbles that he even splintered his front group even more, dropping several of the Lotto riders, including Vanmarcke.
Martin ran out of juice quite far from the finish, but he did his job perfectly, setting up Boonen for a run to the velodrome, where he couldn’t quite finish the job.
The bookies made a killing with Mathew Hayman winning
At 800/1 with some bookmakers, it’s fair to say that Mathew Hayman wasn’t exactly thought of as a favourite for this race.
That’s nothing to do with his Paris-Roubaix pedigree – he’s finished in the top 10 twice before in his 15 previous finishes – but he broke his arm at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and few people expected him to race, let alone win it.
The 37-year-old Australian got in the day’s breakaway, further distancing himself from a possible win, but when his group was reeled in by Boonen and co, the veteran just stuck with them.
Come the final stages and he conserved a bit of energy to make a late attack to lead into the velodrome, but when the group came back together it looked to be game over.
He refused to go down, though, tearing through on the inside to win in the final sprint against Boonen to write his name into the history books and the showers in the Roubaix velodrome.
No fairytale ending for Cancellara
It wasn’t to be for Cancellara in his final Paris-Roubaix – caught behind the crash of Porsev and forced to chase back to Boonen’s group.
When you’re up against it you have to take more risks and unfortunately Cancellara fell foul of a few muddy cobbles on one of the toughest sectors – Mons-en-Pévèle – to end his chances.
He made it to the end to say goodbye to his fans in the velodrome, but even that wasn’t all that successful – taking a tumble off his bike while carrying a flag and sliding into a puddle.
Sagan had too much work to do
At the Tour of Flanders we saw Sagan launch the attack that won the race in the final 20km, powering up the hills to catch the last of the breakaway and then riding alone to the finish for a famous win.
Whether that win took a bit too much out of him, I don’t know, but he never looked able to instil a little bit of that magic to catch the front group in Paris-Roubaix.
A case of bad timing and placement saw him miss the split and even working with Cancellara and a number of other teams he couldn’t make it back.
That said, his team let him down spectacularly, like they seem to on many occasions. After the split there was not a single Tinkoff rider anywhere near Sagan, leaving him having to tag onto Cancellara and others. His brother Juraj came up to lend a bit of support, but it was fleeting as the intensity of the race increased.
He doesn’t really need teammates, but in a race like Paris-Roubaix it’s hard to bridge gaps on your own.
Ian Stannard is a machine
I lost count of the number of times Ian Stannard looked to be struggling, only to come back into the mix and go on the attack.
The Essex powerhouse said he would have preferred it to be cold and wet, but performed exceptionally in the mild and dry to equal Britain’s best ever performance in the race.
His third place puts him alongside Barry Hoban and Roger Hammond in the British record books and matches Team Sky‘s best performance – which was achieved by Juan Antonio Flecha in their debut season in 2010.
A crash probably cost Luke Rowe the chance to compete for a top-10 place, but he set Stannard up well to break away into the winning group.
Will Vanmarcke get a better chance than this?
This may not have been as painful as when Cancellara toyed with him in the velodrome in 2013, but this result will hurt Sep Vanmarcke.
The LottoNL-Jumbo rider had a lot of teammates in the front group when the peloton split, and they didn’t really try to help Tony Martin in the acceleration of pace.
But they weren’t much help to Vanmarcke, other than getting him back after the Haveluy sector – the Belgian was alone when push came to shove.
He looked quite fresh, though, having done little of the work in the breakaway and went out several times on the attack in the final 30km. But a rider of his strength is not going to be allowed a gap over the rest of the field so he was quickly pulled back.
Then, when it came down to a sprint he was never really likely to win; adding another just-off-the-podium place to his palmares.
It’s amazing to think that Vanmarcke has never actually won a WorldTour race, with his last win of any form coming two years ago at the Tour of Norway.
He’ll be around for a few years to come, but will he ever get a better chance of winning than this?
The formation of a break is a work of art
With television coverage usually starting when races are over halfway through, it was fascinating to see the early exchanges in Paris-Roubaix as breakaways tried to form.
The pace at the start was insane, with plenty of riders breathing heavily and drenched in sweat inside the first 20km.
Several breakaways almost got away, but were dragged back by either a lack of cooperation or the fact there was a dangerous rider or team in there. In one break, Trek-Segafredo had no fewer than four riders – half their team – up there.
Unsurprisingly that wasn’t allowed to get away, maxing out at 30 seconds before coming back. Then Elia Viviani tried with two other riders, but again the attack didn’t stick.
Eventually a large group were allowed to go, gaining over two minutes at one point – a group that contained winner Hayman…I wonder if he thought about that when he was up there?
Elia Viviani reportedly hit by a motorbike
Team Sky sports director Servais Knaven told reporters after the race that sprinter Viviani was involved in a collision with a motorbike during the race and was taken to hospital nearby.
While not thought to be seriously injured it’s a stark reminder of the tragic events at Ghent-Wevelgem and the other awful accidents involving riders and motorbikes in recent months.
The video of the incident looked pretty scary, with the motorbike hitting the rider at high speed after a crash on the Arenberg. Paris-Roubaix is dangerous enough without having to contend with external factors as well.