Belgian Greg Van Avermaet crowns stunning Cobbled Classics season with victory in Paris-Roubaix
The Belgian Olympic road race champion entered the iconic Roubaix velodrome after 257km of racing over the roads and cobbled sectors of northern France with Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac) and Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors).
In the high-speed final lap of the velodrome, Van Avermaet won the sprint ahead of Stybar with Langeveld in third.
Van Avermaet adds the victory to his wins this year in Ghent-Wevelgem, E3 Harelbeke, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and second place in the Tour of Flanders the previous weekend.
There was no dream fifth Paris-Roubaix win for Tom Boonen to end his career as he missed out on the crucial final split and was not part of the lead group, despite his best efforts. He finished in 13th place, in his final race before retirement.
Clear skies, dusty conditions and high temperatures led to an extremely fast edition of the race – reportedly the fastest on record – that was punctuated by numerous crashes and mechanical incidents that, as ever, played their part in shaping the outcome of the ‘Hell of the North’.
Despite numerous attempts from various riders, a break was very slow to form as the peloton raced from the start at an average speed of over 50kmh in the first hour of racing.
First a group of five riders – Mads Wurtz Schmidt and Michael Morkov (both Katusha), Hugo Hofstetter (Cofidis), Maxime Daniel (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) and Benjamin Giraud (Delko Marseille) – tried their luck, but were caught soon after.
Then just prior to the first of 29 cobbled sectors and after 97km of racing, Mickael Delage (FDJ), Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal) and Yannick Martinez (Delko) formed an escape group.
This unit initially worked well together, but the pace over the rough roads became increasingly difficult for Martinez, and he dropped out of the break on the second cobbled sector.
Behind, Oliver Naesen (Ag2r) was caught in a crash that took down a large number of riders. He remounted and was forced to chase back to the peloton – but did not really figure in the action again.
Wallays and Delage were joined by Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r), who bridged over from the peloton. With a fresh pair of legs in the group, the trio then stretched their advantage over the bunch back out to around 30 seconds.
Further crashes and mechanicals then held up the likes of Ian Stannard (Team Sky), Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott) and Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors). Welshman Luke Rowe (Team Sky) also suffered a crash, and abandoned the race.
Van Avermaet was another rider caught up in a spill, quickly shouting for a replacement bike as he stood at the roadside with 102km to go.
Boonen drove the pace at the front of the bunch, as Van Avermaet had to put in a big effort to close up a 30-second gap. On the crucial Arenberg cobbled sector with 95km to go, the break still had 28 seconds over the bunch.
World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) chose this moment to attack. He was quickly joined by team-mate Maciej Bodnar, Daniel Oss (BMC) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). Disaster struck once again for Sagan, though, as he suffered a puncture and was forced to drop back to the bunch with Bodnar.
Oss was evidently on a very good day, and went solo with 40km remaining. The chase group was starting to lose a lot of riders by this point, the fatigue really starting to kick in.
Sagan again suffered poor luck, with a mechanical issue that took too long to fix by a team mechanic – who then omitted to push Sagan off again. As it turned out, that was the point that Sagan lost his chance in the race – he joined a group containing Boonen, but they were never to see the leaders again.
In front of Sagan, a group of six riders had formed in chasing Oss: Van Avermaet, Langeveld, Stybar, Stuyven, Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal). They caught Oss just inside 25km to go, but then Moscon, Stuyven and Roelandts were dropped.
Oss continued to work hard at the front of the group for team-mate Van Avermaet, and eventually dropped out with 19.5km to go.
The selection was made: Van Avermaet, Langeveld and Stybar tackled the final sectors of cobbles together, with the group containing Boonen slipping further and further back.
Having sat behind Van Avermaet and Langeveld for a spell, Stybar attacked with 4km to go. He was quickly chased down by Van Avermaet. The group then slowed up going over the final, minor cobbled sector and into the velodrome – no-one wanting to lead-out the others.
As they looped the velodrome, Moscon and Stuyven caught back up. Moscon then immediately went for a sprint but was chased hard by Stybar with Van Avermaet on his wheel.
As Stybar and Van Avermaet went head-to-head to the line, Van Avermaet just edged ahead with Langeveld settling for third. Moscon, for his efforts, came a creditable fifth behind Stuyven.
Paris-Roubaix 2017, 257km
1. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing, in 5-41-07
2. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors
3. Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Cannondale-Drapac
4. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
5. Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Sky, at same time
6. Arnaud Démare (Fra) FDJ, at 12 secs
7. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Soudal
8. Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo
9. Adrien Petit (Fra) Direct Energie
10. john Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo, at same time