Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) won the 2018 edition of Paris-Roubaix as he out-sprinted surprise package Silvan Dillier (Ag2r La Mondiale) on the famous velodrome.
Dillier was part of the early break which went clear after 40km of racing with more than 210km to go, and was able to latch on to Sagan’s wheel after the world champion had attacked from the main group with 54km remaining.
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As the chase stalled behind, Sagan made quick work of riding across to the front of the group, where he found a willing worker in Dillier who barely missed a turn as he worked with Sagan towards the finish in Roubaix.
That duo were able to hold a chase group including defending champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) at around a minute for the final 30km despite numerous efforts by Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) to close the gap.
In the end it was Dillier who led into the velodrome with Sagan on his wheel, rolling around the top of the track before swinging down and sprinting away to take a memorable Paris-Roubaix victory.
Dillier was able to get into the Slovak’s slipstream, and although he was unable to come around will no doubt be delighted with a surprise second place, while Terpstra escaped from the chase group in the final kilometres to take third place.
However the result was over-shadowed by the news issued late on Sunday evening that Veranda’s Crelans-Willems rider Michael Goolaerts had died in hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest earlier in the race.
How it happened
After days of speculation over mud on the route, the peloton rolled out of Compiègne under blue skies with sunny conditions as the smaller teams tried to make it into the break in the early stages.
As usual there was an aggressive start with attack after attack, but Quick-Step Floors were being particularly vigilant on the front of the bunch to make sure that the break did not contain too many riders or anyone that could threaten in the finale.
Finally, with more than 40km on the clock, an attack by Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal) was followed by Ludovic Robeert (WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic), with that duo able to open a decent advantage. A counter-attack came from Silvan Dillier (Ag2r La Mondiale), Marc Soler (Movistar), Jimmy Duquennoy (WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic), and Sven Erik Bystrøm (UAE Team Emirates) to form a six-man group at the front.
Those six riders worked hard to build an advantage, but continuous counter-attacks from the bunch, most of which were chased down by Quick-Step Floors, meant that they were struggling to get a lead of anything more than half a minute.
However a small chase group of Gatis Smukulis (Delko Marseille Provence KTM), Geoffrey Soupe (Cofidis), and Jay Robert Thomson (Dimension Data) were able to slip away and work their way across to form a nine-strong group, and after an hour of racing the peloton sat up and allowed the break to steadily open its lead on the 40km to the first cobbled sector at Troisvilles.
The cobbles started with 163.5km remaining, by which time the break had extended its lead out beyond the eight minute mark, but with the pace steadily going up on the front of the bunch.
With mud on the first section of cobbles Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) moved to the front in an attempt to stay out of trouble, and for good reason as a huge crash midway down the peloton brought down a large number of riders including Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) who was forced to abandon, and held up more including Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin).
That meant that after the first cobbled sector the main peloton was already cut down to around 60 riders with Quick-Step Floors and Bora-Hansgrohe moving to the front to try and take advantage of the split.
The next sector at Briastre saw Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) briefly apply the pressure, but it was not enough to either pull a group away although it did keep the pace high to make it difficult for the group containing Van Avermaet and Naesen to regain contact with the main bunch.
Finally, on the Saint-Python cobbled sector, the junction was made and Van Avermaet set about making his way back up to the front of the bunch, while the breakaway’s lead was cut to five minutes by the action behind.
The next few cobbled sectors at Saint-Vaast, Verchain-Maugré, Quérénaing, Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon, and Maing saw a slight pause in the action in the bunch, with the only action being a few punctures for Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafedo), and the luckless Naesen.
However things didn’t remain calm for long as the race approached the four-star sector at Haveluy, which was covered in mud earlier in the week, and the five-star Trouée d’Arenberg, with the breakaway three minutes up the road.
The Haveluy sector saw another crash as Kristijan Koren (Bahrain-Merida) went down and took out Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and Sebastian Langeveld (EF Education First-Drapac) in the process.
From there the pace only went up on the approach to the Arenberg, with Wallays leading the break onto the cobbles with a lead of 2-35 over the peloton where Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe) led the charge.
At the front of the race Wallays pushed the pace to split the break to draw Soler, Dillier, Smukulis, and Robeet and Bystrøm clear, while Mike Teunnisen (Team Sunweb) attacked from the peloton with Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) tucked in his wheel.
That move caused panic in the bunch behind as Bora-Hansgrohe and Lotto Soudal fought to close down on the front duo, but as they swung off the cobbles and onto the tarmac the impetus went out of the chase and the counter-attacking began.
Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) and Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) made separate attempt to chase across to Gilbert and Teunissen, with Politt making it across but Debusschere falling short. Politt, Gilbert, and Teunissen then swept up Soupe and Smukulis, but their gap was small and were almost caught shortly after the Wandignies sector with 75 km remaining.
However no sooner had the Gilbert group been caught than Quick-Step were on the move again with Zdenek Stybar launched a move ahead of the Brillon sector.
Stybar’s attack was a strong one, and prompted a response from John Degenkolb, Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) who set off in pursuit. However shortly after the end of the following four-star sector at Sars-et-Rosières that group was caught, and Stybar was left dangling up the road.
For a moment the gap was down to around 10 seconds but Stybar was able to accelerate on the Beuvry-la-Forêt sector with 65km remaining to extend his lead even as Martin continued to lead the peloton. Meanwhile at the back of the bunch Naesen suffered yet more bad luck as he suffered his second puncture of the race.
However with 60km remaining Stybar decided to call it a day, sitting up as he was caught by the main bunch with Burghardt once again on the front.
After a few kilometres of easier racing, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) launched two back-to-back attacks, both of which were quickly closed down, before Peter Sagan went over the top for a solo effort of his own.
Surprisingly there was hesitation from the bunch and Sagan was able to ride away as the riders in the peloton looked to Quick-Step Floors to take up the chase.
Very quickly the gap went out and it was up to Degenkolb to respond behind with Sagan’s team-mate Daniel Oss locked in his wheel, before Jaspser Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Wout van Aert (Veranda’s Willems-Crelan) went on the counter but were unable to open much of a gap
Meanwhile Sagan had made the junction to the three remaining riders to the breakaway, Bystrøm, Dillier, and Wallays, on the Bersée sector, taking a few seconds in the wheels to get his breath back ahead of the next cobbled sector: the second five star sector at Mons-en-Pévèle.
The chase in the main group wasn’t coordinated and got disrupted even more as Luke Rowe (Team Sky), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), and Tony Martin all went down shortly before the entrance to the sector, as Sagan opened his lead out towards a minute on the main group with Van Aert and Stuyven somewhere in the middle.
With no riders up the road it was up to Quick-Step to take control and Niki Terpstra duly hit the front hard to force a split in the group and pull a small group clear including team-mate Gilbert, Taylor Phinney and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education-First Drapac), Van Avermaet, Debusschere, and Vandenbergh.
That counter-attack quickly pulled back Van Aert, Stuyven, and dropped breakaway rider Bystrøm to form a nine-strong chase group 41 seconds behind the front group of Sagan, Dillier, and Wallays.
However the chasers didn’t stay together for long as Terpstra kept the pace high to drop Gilbert, Vandenbergh, and Bystrøm, but not high enough to do anything to pull back the Sagan group, which had a gap of more than a minute with 35km remaining.
The gap to the first chase group hovered at just under a minute for the next few kilometres while the second chase group containing the likes of Gilbert, Stybar, and Degenkolb slipped further back towards two minutes.
At the Cysoing sector Wallays was dropped leaving Dillier the only rider left with Sagan and still doing the odd turn on the front to extend the lead back out beyond a minute on the Bourghelles with 23km remaining.
Phinney led the chase onto the four-star Camphin-en-Pévèle sector with a deficit of 1-28 to Sagan and Dillier, while Van Aert dropped his chain and was swept up by another group including Theuns, Naesen, and Stybar.
However despite Phinney’s upping of the pace it wasn’t enough for Terpstra who attacked to immediately cut 15 seconds from Sagan and Dillier’s lead but was unable to open much of a gap.
In the meantime Sagan and Dillier were onto the Carrefour de l’Arbre with the Swiss champion fighting to hold the world champion’s wheel as Sagan applied the pressure on the final five-star sector. But there were more gaps in the group behind as Terpstra accelerated again to distance all but Van Avermaet, Vanmarcke, and Stuyven.
Off the Carrefour de l’Arbre and the subsequent sector of Gruson and Sagan and Dillier’s lead was down below a minute as Terpstra continued to push on behind, receiving assistance from all three of the riders left alongside him in the chase.
The leading duo successfully negotiated the final meaningful cobble sector at Hem with a lead of 53 seconds, and rode into the final five kilometres with the chase group out of contention.
Still, after more than 200km at the front of the race, Dillier was working on the front and it was the Ag2r La Mondiale rider who led into the velodrome with just a lap of a half of the track remaining.
Dillier, a rider with extensive track experience, led around the top of the track with Sagan in his wheel, but it was the Slovak who swung down the track and sprinted away to take his first Roubaix victory.
Paris-Roubaix 2018: Compiègne to Roubaix, 257km
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 5-54-06 5:54:06
2. Silvan Dillier (Sui) Ag2r La Mondiale, at same time
3. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors, at 0-57
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing , at 1-34
5. Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, at same time
6. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) EF Education First-Drapac, at same time
7. Nils Politt (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin, at 2-31
8. Taylor Phinney (USA) EF Education First-Drapac
9. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Quick-Step Floors
10. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal, all at same time