Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Leopard) has won his third Paris-Roubaix with a supremely confident performance.
The Swiss, winner last week of his second Tour of Flanders, today won a cat and mouse sprint with Sepp Vanmarcke (Blanco) in the famed Roubaix velodrome.
An enthralling race witnessed numerous swings in momentum, but Cancellara remained a constant threat, even when dropping back to the team car 35km from the finish, allowing two dangerous groups to ride clear.
“For the books, it’s always nice to win alone, you can celebrate, but today there was just pure fighting to the line, to the last millimetre of this race.
“It’s always special, but this somehow today was probably even more special than the other ones, because I was alone, I was in the front,” he said.
Cancellara launched his first attack with 51.5km to go on the cobbles of Auchy-lez-Orchies à Bersée. The effect was immediate and devastating, shattering the peloton and prompting an immediate response from favourites, Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing), and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), who moved smartly to the head of the bunch.
Moments later, former winner, Stuart O’Grady (Orica-GreenEDGE), became the first of three-man breakaway containing Team Sky’s Matthew Hayman and Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) to be swept up.
After another three kilometres, as the riders arrived at the cobbled hell of Mons-en-Pévèle, the remains of the bunch was exploded. Team-mates, Stijn Vandenbergh and Nikki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), attacked, dragging with them some of the strongest riders in the race, including Cancellara, Flecha, Lars Boom (Blanco), Luca Paolini (Katusha) and Team Sky’s Bernard Eisel. Chavanel led a 15-strong chase group, ahead of a sagging band of casualties, including Hushovd, dogged by numerous mechanicals, and the Team Sky duo of Edvald Boasson Hagen and British champion, Ian Stannard.
Vandenbergh dropped the hammer on the next cobbled secteur, the Mérignies à Avelin, but almost immediately slackened the pace, perhaps testing the resolve of his confederates. Sebastian Turgot (Europcar), second last year, dropped back with a puncture, leaving his young team-mate, Damien Gaudin, pedaling a cyclo-cross machine with obvious power and a total absence of finesse, to carry the hopes of the French team.
Assured of his abilities by his earlier dig, Vandenbergh chose the next cobbled section, Pont-Thibaut à Ennevelin, to attack again, this time taking five men with him. Paolini led the chase, but finding no-one to assist dropped back to rally support. He found none, and Cancellara especially seemed utterly unconcerned. Was he supremely confident or suffering genuine difficulties?
Three kilometres later, and with Vandenbergh and Vanmarcke now some 15 seconds up the road with Gaudin and Sebastian Langeveld (Orica-GreenEDGE), and Flecha and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) disappearing fast, Cancellara dropped back to the team car for a chinwag with his directeur sportif, the 1988 Paris-Roubaix winner, Dirk De Mol. If he had been bluffing earlier, he was now in danger of overplaying his hand. By the time he returned to action, only Eisel, Terpstra and Boom had held station.
Positions remained unaltered over the next cobbled section, the Moulin-de-Vertain, with the leading group of Vandenbergh and co. some 12 seconds ahead of Flecha, Van Avermaet, Paolini and Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), and Cancellara and his three unwilling helpers some 20 seconds behind. Fans of Spartacus need not have worried, however. Back on the tarmac, the Swiss launched a huge attack, displaying the power that has won him four world time trial titles, dragging his quartet up to Van Avermaet, Flecha, and Gaudin. Up ahead, Vandenbergh had clearly received warning that Cancellara was far from finished, and broke clear, with only Vanmarcke strong enough to go with him.
The leading duo had 43 seconds on the Cancellara group by the time the Swiss attacked again, when he chose the cobbles of Bourghelles à Wannehain to drop all but Stybar, who may have mined previously untapped reserves to respond to the Spartacus’ savage acceleration. Van Avermaet gave chase, but to no avail. Riders of the quality of Flecha and Terpstra were shelled.
Back on the tarmac and back in time trial mode, Cancellara motored up to Vandenbergh and Vermarcke, dragging Stybar with him. As they hit the cobbles of the Camphin-en-Pévèle, it was clear the decisive selection had been made. The quartet strung out along the nearly-two kilometre stretch of cobbles, with Cancellara momentarily pacified.
The cobbles of the Carrefour de l’Arbe have played host to their fair share of action down the years, but the scenes that unfolded there in 2013 will live long in the memory. Vandenbergh found his path blocked by one of the thousands of spectators and crashed heavily, his courageous bid for victory ended in a heartbeat. Vanmarcke switched to the centre of the road and then to the right, while Cancellara, with Stybar still clinging doggedly to his wheel, powered up the left hand side. Spartacus was again testing those who had dared to ride with him, but in Stybar and Vanmarcke, he had encountered two unshakeable pursuers. Stybar’s challenge ended just seconds later, however, when he also collided with a spectator. Somehow, he remained upright, his foot unclipped, but as he exited the cobbles, he shook his head in acknowledgment of a challenge effectively ended.
And then there were two. By the time Cancellara and Vanmarcke hit the penultimate cobbled section of Willems à Hem, their lead over Stybar, who had suffered another near miss, this time of his own making, had increased to 1.20. After some goading from Spartacus, Vanmarcke moved ahead on the cobbles, remaining there for their 1.4km duration. If Cancellara was to win a third Paris-Roubaix, he would not do so easily.
Four kilometres from home, Cancellara attacked on a long, straight, tarmaced road. He would need more than this most basic assault to shed a competitor as determined as Vanmarcke, however, and the young Belgian chased on to the wheel of his more experienced adversary. When Cancellara flicked his elbow, Vanmarcke obliged by moving ahead, but only fractionally, positioning himself to discourage the Swiss from further attack.
More goading ensued two kilometers from home, when Cancellara took his left hand from the bars and waved Vermarcke through. The 24-year-old responded by standing on his pedals, stretching his legs, and stubbornly refusing to move ahead. His resolve soon faltered, however, and he led the Swiss on to the final cobbled section in the centre of Roubaix, just 1.5km from home.
Cancellara led into the velodrome, but just when it looked as if Spartacus had made a fatal mistake, Vanmarcke rolled underneath him, perhaps hoping to force the Swiss up the banking. Cancellara, defeated in sprint finishes for some of the biggest races in the sport, would make no mistake on this occasion, however. With Vanmarcke unwittingly leading out the sprint, Cancellara bided his time, and when he kicked for the line, did so decisively.
Paris-Roubaix 2013 – result
1) Fabian Cancellara (SUI) – Radioshack-Leopard – 5.45.33
2) Sepp Vanmarcke (BEL) – Blanco Pro Cycling – ST
3) Nikki Terpstra (NED) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +31″
4) Greg Van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing – ST
5) Damien Gaudin (FRA) – Europcar
6) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +39″
7) Sebastian Langeveld (FRA) – Orica- GreenEDGE – ST
8) Juan Antonio Flecha (ESP) – Vacansoleil-DCM
9) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha
10) Sebastian Turgot (FRA) – Europcar