What did we learn from the 2017 Hell of the North?
Greg van Avermaet rounds off sensational spring
It’s been a long time coming, but Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) has at last won a Monument.
Heading into the velodrome with Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac), Van Avermaet appeared to hold the cards with his superior finishing kick, but so often in similar scenarios things have conspired against him – the crash at last week’s Tour of Flanders being the latest example.
But this time everything played out perfectly as he stormed past Stybar on the finishing straight, completing what must be considered one of the greatest spring campaigns in history. Having also triumphed in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, and Ghent-Wevelgem, Van Avermaet becomes only the second rider after Tom Boonen in 2012 to win four spring classics in the same season, and also boasts impressive runner-up finishes at Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders.
Today’s victory was all the more impressive considering the effort he had to make early on after being involved in a crash ahead of the key tactical point of the Arenberg forest. The incident even threatened to put pay to his chances there and then, but the Belgian is on such good form that he was not to be denied.
No fairytale ending for Tom Boonen
All the talk heading into Paris-Roubaix surrounded Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors) and his quest to win a record-breaking fifth edition of the race on his last ever ride as a professional.
The 36-year-old certainly played a key role in the race, taking to the front of the race on many of the early key cobbled secteurs, and attacking in tandem with his teammate Zdenek Stybar. But when the decisive split was made, it was Stybar rather than Boonen who slipped into the front group, leaving the Belgian to mark wheels behind.
A victory for Stybar would have made for a successful send-off for Boonen, but he was out-sprinted into second, while Boonen himself had to settle for thirteenth – his second lowest finish of the thirteen Paris-Roubaix that he has completed. Yet despite missing out, it was still a ride full of panache that demonstrates why he will be so sorely missed.
Watch: Paris-Roubaix 2017 highlights
Gianni Moscon salvages Sky’s race
Early on in Paris-Roubaix, it seemed Sky’s race was heading the same disappointing way as the rest of their cobbled classics this season, as co-leaders Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard both suffered ill-timed mechanicals to take them out of contention.
But their misfortune freed up Gianni Moscon to ride for himself, and the young Italian dazzled with an exceptional performance, riding aggressively to eventually finish fifth in what was just his second Paris-Roubaix appearance.
Aged just 22, Moscon has the look of a future winner of Paris-Roubaix, and a star in the making – his breakthrough should be enough to counterbalance the disappointment of Rowe and Stannard’s campaigns.
Daniel Oss is one of the peloton’s best domestiques
For years Daniel Oss has done a superb albeit largely unheralded job as a domestique for BMC, playing a selfless role in their Classics squad, and forming part of their two-time world team time trial-winning outfit.
The Italian and his long mane of hair is often seen setting a ferocious tempo at the front of the peloton, but he hasn’t actually won a race himself for nearly six years.
That barren run may have continued at Paris-Roubaix, but it will have felt like a win given the crucial role he played in helping his teammate Van Avermaet. He spent much of the second half of the race out in front – first with Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), then by himself – thus taking the pressure off his leader.
Then, when Van Avermaet made it into a select breakaway group, Oss dropped back and set a fast enough tempo to ensure that threatening riders like Boonen, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) did not get back into contention.
It was a heroic performance, and his embrace with Van Avermaet at the finish line showed just how much it meant to him for his teammate to win.
The fastest ever Paris-Roubaix
This year’s Paris-Roubaix will go down in the history books as the fastest ever, with an average speed of 45.2kmph breaking the previous record of 45.1kph in 1964.
Saying conditions were ‘favourable’ in a race featuring over 50km of cobblestones may sound absurd, but as far as Paris-Roubaix goes this one was kind to the riders, contributing to the record-breaking pace – the weather was unseasonably warm and the cobblestones dry, while the south-westerly tailwind played in the riders’ favour too.
Another reason was the blistering first half, where riders raced full-on with no break managing to successfully get away until deep into the race. And the pace did not let up in the second half either, with big names like Boonen, Sagan and Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) all coming to the fore early to set a formidable pace on the cobbled sections.