Team Sky's bittersweet Cobbled Classics campaign ended with Gianni Moscon, only 22-years-old, sprinting to fifth in Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. Ian Stannard, the Briton who should have driven the British superpower home after third last year, says that everything went wrong in a 20-minute period.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) rode clear to win with a trio that included Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors), second place, and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac), in third.
"Luke Rowe had a puncture, Gianni Moscon had to change bikes... it was in a 20-minute period where everything went wrong for the team it seemed," Stannard told Cycling Weekly. "That's kind of the nature of bike racing."
Dutch sports director and 2001 Paris-Roubaix winner, Servais Knaven stood near by. Dust from following in Sky's Ford team car still covered him.
"We were really unlucky. Lukasz Wisniowski crashed, Owain Doull and Jon Dibben were involved in a crash, or held up, but Christian Knees was OK, and Elia Viviani, too," Knaven added.
"Ian was on the back foot from that flat, that cost him a lot of energy to come back. He came back before Denain, five kilometres before Haveluy, he tried to move up, but he didn't have it anymore to make the first group. That was a shame, he was one of our leaders.
"Gianni also was in the crash with Wisniowski, then changed his back 10K after, crashed on sector 15, came backed and attacked."
In the chaos, Moscon shined. The 22-year-old Italian, who is only in his second year as a professional, already completed two monumental races to Roubaix.
"I had some problems, I had to change bikes," Moscon said pulling to a stop in the velodrome after placing fifth.
"I suffered so much, but I believe I had a great race."
Moscon attacked early to "anticipate" the others but he was "tired". With the three leaders – Van Avermaet, Stybar and Langeveld – slowing and playing tactics in the velodrome, he raced back and started the sprint.
"I thought to do something to surprise the others. I don't think they were expecting it. I was less fresh, but I wanted to surprise them on the velodrome."
Knaven and Stannard shook their head in disappointment. They say the Classics failed to go how they wanted.
Rowe placed third in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and today, Moscon fifth in cycling's big race in Northern France. Their "campaign", however, excludes Milan-San Remo - the one non-cobbled classic so far – tucked between the opening weekend in Belgium and the run from Dwars door Vlaanderen to Paris-Roubaix.
"You can't take away Michal Kwiatkowski's Milan-San Remo win," Sky boss David Brailsford told Cycling Weekly.
"We've been plugging away in the one-day races for a long time, and if you'd have told me that Gianni would've been fifth here and we’d win Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche, I'd have taken that. That's been good.
"But I would say is that the Cobbled Classics, the performances haven't been bad but the results haven't been there. Luke's been unlucky, like last week in Flanders. That happens in cycling at times."
Kwiatkowski won Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, but pulled back to prepare for the Ardennes Classics. Geraint Thomas gave up on these races to focus on stage races.
"No," Brailsford said about if he had any regrets about not bringing them here to the Cobbled Classics after they rode so well in past years. "You can't think later we should've done it differently, we made a plan and stuck with it."
Stannard waited for his ride. He is joining Rowe and the rest of the Classics team for much deserved beers this evening. They are taking a break. Stannard should next appear in the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France.
"We were looking today to pull out the performance we haven't had," said Stannard. "The whole Classics campaign has been disappointing for us if you just discount the San Remo ride."
"It's a pity because next year you're one year older," Knaven added. "You can only do [the Classics] 12 to 15 times, so it's a big blow. Of course, they are not happy. They are in good shape, but they missed that little extra."
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