It was a day when almost every favorite played their hand early but it came down to numbers and in a display reminiscent of the old Mapei team it was Omega Pharma-Quick Step who had the best tactics. Niki Terpstra took the well-deserved win but he’s got Tom Boonen to thank for forcing the race.
The riders set off from the start in cold, but more importantly, dry conditions and the inevitable attacks began. After 30 km of racing a group of eight riders managed to break clear and began to move steadily away. The group included Pez’s inside man Clément Koretzky (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) and they built up a lead of over 9 minutes before they hit the first section of cobbles at Troisvilles á Inchy. Quickly through that and onto the next of the 28 sections of pavé and everything was going smoothly although the gap began to drop as riders in the main field accelerated to get a good position on each section. There was an early problem for Boonen who who punctured passing through the Quiévy à St Python section but he was attended to straight away.
More drama in the bunch as Arnaud Demare (FDJ) who had earlier punctured, crashed in section 22. It was nothing serious but the tension was obviously rising in the peloton ahead of the notorious Arenberg Forest. With Trek and OPQS setting the pace at the front of the bunch nervousness and mishaps were beginning to take their toll. The hero of last week Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) flatted and chased hard with a teammate to get back. Just as he rejoined he was caught up in a crash beneath a railway bridge caused by some unfortunate road furniture. Sagan also punctured and had to expel excess energy getting back to the group.
Sky was also thinking about their knighted rider with Wiggins being brought to the front ahead of Arenberg and as they approached the cobbled forest section the main men were all there or there about, albeit that Sagan was near the back.
Into the Forest
Boonen was there, Vanmarcke (Belkin) was there, Thomas (Sky) was there and, keeping out of trouble, Cancellara (Trek) was there. The gap to the break was now below 5 minutes as the peloton surged ahead. Bad luck for FDJ’s Boucher in the lead group as he punctured just before the forest. With banners hanging over the course Schillinger applied the pressure. Our man Clément Koetzky also punctured and Kolár was simply ridden off the back and by the time they emerged from the section the break was down to just four riders.
As the peloton hit the forest at high-speed riders began to be shed out the back. Crashes and punctures meant that stricken riders had to wait for neutral service. Kristoff (Katusha) punctured and Gregory Rast (Trek) suffered a mechanical and as everyone came out of the forest and the peloton slowed, the race took stock.
John Degenkolb and Fabian Cancellara got through the forest without any issues
The four leaders were Schillinger, Murphy, De Troyer and Jarrier and they were ahead of Boucher who then got stopped by a level crossing. The riders know better than to jump the crossing as several were relegated years ago for doing just that so he had a frustrating wait. Chasing behind the main peloton, Kristoff punctured again to add to his tally of woes.
It was a day to forget as far as Alexander Kristoff is concerned – nothing went right for the Sanremo winner
A big crash in the main peloton happened as Trek tried to mass at the front with Haydon Roulston jumping off the kerb, losing control and almost bringing down his team leader Cancellara. The Swiss rider stayed upright but had to regroup and lost position in the main group. Behind, the incredibly unfortunate Kristoff crashed and the Norwegian rider finally called it a day.
Omega Pharma now turned on the pressure at the front and Boonen’s team turned the screw on the misfortunes of the other teams. With 50 kilometers of racing left to go Boonen wanted to see who was strong and who was hanging on. The riders were fighting for position and battling the wind that was coming from the side. With the section of Wandignies coming to an end Koretzky was picked up by the bunch just as former World Champion Thor Hushovd (BMC) forced a split and took other riders away with him. It was a dangerous group as it also contained two Belkin riders but the peloton was attentive and wouldn’t let them get far.
Repairing the Damage
Entering section 14 at Tilloy the lead group was down to three with Murphy having been dropped by a flat but the gap had been reduced to well under two minutes. Wiggins and Sagan had rejoined the main group as it slowed slightly but this only encouraged riders to try and jump off the front. On the long run down to the hard section of cobbles at Orchies a small group formed ahead of the peloton containing eight riders including Thomas (Sky). As the gap to the leaders fell under one minute, Boonen himself rode off the front of the bunch and attempted to cover the ground to the Thomas group. Boonen caught the Thomas group which was now only 20 seconds behind the three leaders. The Belgian rider was using his experience as he knew a brutal section of cobbles was coming, with another section soon after. Trek was playing a waiting game as Boonen threw caution to the wind.
With the leaders caught we now had 12 riders in the lead by 20 seconds with BMC, Sky and Trek leading the peloton.
Boonen had played his cards and was driving the group. The only rider willing to work with him was the Welshman and so Boonen drove on and tried to split the group. BMC was leading the chase while Trek was either unable to respond or was attempting to give their leader more support at the finish than they did last week. With the OPQS rider making his move so far out there was speculation that it may have been a feint in order to set things up for his teammate Terpstra, who surely deserved a big win soon.
BMC was on the front of the bunch, followed closely by Sky but upfront Boonen was visibly angry that some of the others were sitting-in and was trying to force the pace with Thomas. It wasn’t to be though as their advantage was dropping all the time. Just as they entered the section at Auchy, and it looked as though they were about to be caught, Boonen went again taking Thomas with him.
Playing the Waiting Game
Next to make a move was Hushovd (BMC) who came out of the bunch in an attempt to get across to the Boonen group. With only ten sections of cobbles to go, and the next section at Mons-en-Pévéle being three kilometers long, the lead group had moved back out to 10 seconds. Cancellara had yet to respond as the group moved away but he had Wiggins and Sagan for company. BMC had turned off the chase as they waited to see how the big Norwegian would get on and Sky was protecting their man in the break, Thomas.
The responsibility was now with Trek and the black jerseys were gathering at the front. Hushovd was driving with Boonen and Thomas, with De Backer (Giant-Shimano), Martinez (Team Europcar) and Tankink (Belkin) also making the selection. As the wind swept across the countryside and hit the riders from the side, the elastic was stretching again and the break moved out to 28 seconds. The peloton was now down to 25 riders as the wind and the pace took its toll.
With 40 km to go, and the break nudging out to 45 seconds, the result could go either way. Sky, BMC and Belkin were not pushing and so the onus was back on Trek. Cancellara, though, was not worried and was careful to continue to eat his energy bar to ready himself for the move that would surely come.
Enough is Enough
With the break at 45 seconds, Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) took off from the group and Cancellara decided the time was right. He surged after him followed by Greg Van Avermaet and they began to close down the break. However, as more riders made it across the pace slowed and who should attack but Peter Sagan who had looked to be out of sorts all day. Up ahead, Boonen knew that he would have to outsmart Cancellara and attacked from the front of the break. With just over 35 km to go Boonen was playing his final card and attempting to ride away. The former British champion Thomas knew this was his best chance and wasn’t to be denied. He dragged the group back up to Boonen who was showing considerable frustration at the riders that wouldn’t work.
Six more cobbled sections to go and the break held 25 seconds over the chasing duo of Sagan and Wylants (Belkin), with the Cancellara group at 35 seconds. Into the double section of cobbles at Bourghelles and Sagan had got across. Boonen was driving again while Van Avermaet came down on a corner back in the bunch. Cancellara was pushing but had he left it too late?
Back onto tarmac and Peter Sagan, having just caught the Boonen group, attacked and set off up the road with 20 km to go. Hands crossed on the stem he began to pull clear of the Boonen group but behind them the Cancellara group was slowly coming back. They could all see each other as next to go was Lars Boom (Belkin) who tried to get across to Sagan.
Onto section 5 at Camphin and Cancellara had now overhauled the Boonen group. Boom went down on a dusty corner as Cancellara and Vanmarcke stretched out towards Sagan. With Boonen now beaten Omega’s focus passed to Stybar as a four-man group containing Cancellara and Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) tried desperately to chase Sagan down.
Peter Sagan hit the Carrefour de l’Arbre on his own but with 15 km to go he was overhauled by the chase group. Vanmarcke was pushing hard while behind Terpstra, Boonen, and Wiggins were trying to get back on terms with the leading group of five.
Cancellara was now working out his tactics for the finish because having Stybar, Vanmarcke and Degenkolb in the sprint could be too dangerous. In the lead by 15 seconds and Stybar wasn’t working as Boonen and Terpstra were close behind.
With only 8 km to go the chasing group of Wiggins and Boonen was back on terms with the Cancellara/Sagan group. The Swiss rider was isolated but had the others left more energy out on the roads of Roubaix? Six km to go and Niki Terpstra launched his attack as the others looked around, nobody willing to chase. Cancellara, Sagan and Wiggins were riding tempo as Terpstra left it all on the road as he headed down to the velodrome. Head rocking from side to side Terpstra headed into the final kilometer with 20 seconds advantage over the chasers who had settled for fighting out the minor placings. Into the velodrome with the roar of the crowd in his ears and as he came onto the final straight Niki Terpstra could finally savior the victory that he’s been threatening since the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile back in the beaten chase group it was Degenkolb who took the sprint for second from Cancellara and Vanmarcke.
It was an amazing day with riders throwing caution to the wind but in the end it went to the Dutchman who will no doubt offer his thanks to his Belgian teammate, Boonen for taking the race to the others.
Stay tuned to Pez this week for the Roadside Report and Pelopics for all the best images from today.
1 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma Quick Step 6:09:01
2 John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano 0:00:20
3 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing
4 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin Pro Cycling
5 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Omega Pharma Quick Step
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 Quick Step