By Nigel Wynn
Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) played out perfect tactics to take a career-defining solo win in the 2014 edition of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) sprinted to the line in the Roubaix velodrome to take second place, with Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) in third. British hopes Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins (both Team Sky) finished in seventh and ninth positions respectively.
How it happened
Terpstra's victory came at the end of a day that saw all of the main contenders try their luck in almost perfect, dry conditions.
A break comprising David Boucher (FDJ), Kenny de Haes (Lotto-Belisol), Tim De Troyer (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Benoit Jarrier (Bretagne-Seche Environnement), Clement Koretzky (Bretagne-Seche Environnement), Michael Kolar (Tinkoff-Saxo), John Murphy (UnitedHealthCare) and Andreas Schillinger (NetApp-Endura) formed after only 35 kilometres of the 257km race.
The eight riders swiftly built up a lead of over nine minutes until they hit Troisvilles, the first of the 28 cobbled sectors. The peloton remained largely together despite a rash of punctures and minor crashes as they headed towards the flash point of the Forest of Arenberg.
By the exit of Arenberg, the break numbered just four riders - De Troyer, Jarrier, Murphy and Schillinger - and with a four-minute gap.
Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) succumbed first to a puncture and then a crash, to become one of the highest-profile early withdrawals from the race.
Cancellara was sensationally wiped out by team-mate Hayden Roulston (Trek Factory Racing) as Roulston bunny-hopped off a kerb, and losing his front wheel. Cancellara quickly remounted but a large swathe of the peloton had been held up - including Wiggins and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
After a regrouping, Thomas then headed up an attack from the bunch, joined by Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Yannick Martinez (Europcar), Bert De Backer (Giant-Shimano) and Bram Tankink (Belkin) in what was to be the race's first real danger move. Despite only Boonen and Thomas looking committed in chase they caught the remnants of the early escape group, and were later joined by Thor Hushovd (BMC), who'd bridged up from the chasers.
Just as it looked like the lead group was stumbling and in danger of being caught, the chase eased and their gap stretched out once more. With 34km to go, Sagan chose this moment to bridge up to the leaders, followed by Maarten Wynants (Belkin).
Sagan then attacked the lead group just before they were caught by Vanmarcke, Cancellara, Degenkolb and Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). Behind, Wiggins, Thomas, Terpstra, Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin-Sharp), De Backer and a flagging Boonen successfully gave chase. With Sagan caught by the two following groups, an unusually large selection was present with eight kilometres to go.
As the pre-race favourites looked like they were taking a breather to collect themselves for the finale, 2014 Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Terpstra launched himself up the road - a move that no-one followed. He was gone, mouth wide open gulping in as much air as he could to fuel his mammoth effort. The Dutchman swiftly built up a 20-second lead, and entered the Roubaix velodrome on his own to take a fine solo win at the end of one of the most exciting and unpredictable editions of the race in recent history.
Degenkolb had the legs to foil his rivals in the sprint for second place, with Cancellara third. But the day belonged to Terpstra, who was already off his bike and weeping for joy in front of the velodrome crowd.
"I was in the front and I didn't know how many seconds I held," said Terpstra. "I just kept pushing until the end. It's not the best day in my life but probably the best day in my career. With three guys in the front group, we were very strong. Tom [Boonen] and I came back in the finale and in the last cobbled section I attacked."
Wiggins both happy and disappointed with result
Bradley Wiggins had made no secret of aiming for a good placing in this year's Paris-Roubaix - and he succeeded in his aim, placing ninth. Team-mate Geraint Thomas went one better than his eighth place in the Tour of Flanders the previous week, in seventh spot.
In a post-race interview, Wiggins appeared to hint that this may not be the last time that he attempts to win in Roubaix, saying on the Sky website: "I’ve got the confidence now that I can do it now and match those guys. To go top 10 I think in hindsight is a good result. There’s not many Tour de France winners that have gone top 10 in Roubaix. On a personal note it’s a nice thing."
Thomas reflected on a solid Classic season, both for him and the Sky team as a whole: "It’s nice to get a top 10 again. The way I rode it wasn’t the easy way. We were out front for a lot of the time. It’s satisfying, but at the same time we wanted to get a podium. I think we’ve definitely improved as a whole over the Classics season. We’re missing (Ian) Stannard who would have been a key rider for us today."
Het Nieuwsblad winner Stannard was forced to miss both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix after fracturing a vertebra as a result of a crash in Ghent-Wevelgem.
Also noteworthy is 24-year-old Luke Rowe's 31st place, less than three minutes behind winner Terpstra and in the same group as Taylor Phinney (BMC).
Paris-Roubaix 2014, 257km
1. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
2. John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Shimano at 20 secs
3. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing
4. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin
5. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
6. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
7. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
8. Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Garmin-Sharp
9. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky
10. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at same time
30. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing
31. Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky at 2-55
93. Jonathan McEvoy (GBr) NetAp-Endura at 9-55
113. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Sharp at 16-40
DNF Alex Dowsett (GBr) Movistar
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