Ian Stannard became only the third Brit to finish on the Paris-Roubaix podium as former Team Sky team-mate Mat Hayman (Orica-GreenEDGE) won the Queen of the Classics.
Stannard finished third, the third Brit to do so after Barry Hoban in 1972 and Roger Hammond in 2004, as Hayman celebrated a shock victory – outsprinting Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) to deny the Belgian a record-breaking fifth win.
Hayman, like Stannard, was a founding member of Team Sky and rode for four seasons and after seeing the 37-year-old win, Stannard vowed to himself reach the top step of the podium one day.
“I’m pleased to finish on the podium, but it’s so close yet so far I guess," he said. “Everyone was getting stuck in – certainly myself, I didn’t want to come into a sprint with Boonen and Edvald.
“I had a little bit of speed left but the cobbles were pretty slippery and you lose a lot of energy on them. But it was good fun to stay at the front.
“The final was pretty nervous, tough racing, no one really had the legs left. It shows what a hard race it was, the guys you’d expect to sprint a lot faster had nothing left.
“Mat’s a great friend and I’m super happy to see him win. For him to be outsprinting Boonen is pretty impressive. He’s an ex-teammate, I’ve seen everything he’s done and put in for everyone else, it’s nice to see him get a result."
“I’ve always had ambitions for this race ever since I first watched it on TV. It’s nice to get on the podium, but two more steps to work my way up now.
“I'm obviously happy to be on the podium. But it's also so close, so far. There are still two steps to go, maybe next year."
Crashes littered the race, which started with a typically high pace and meant breakaways were unable to establish themselves – Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) finding himself in one such unsuccessful move.
Hayman made the split when a break did eventually form, with 16 riders holding a minute’s advantage as they hit the first set of cobbles.
At sector 20, Etixx-QuickStep upped the pace and shredded the peloton in the process – Tony Martin’s big pull on the Haveluy-Wallers sector further reducing the numbers, as Boonen, Stannard, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Robert Wagner (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE) followed the German.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) were among the big names still in the peloton, who Spartacus led onto the Arenberg Forest sector more than a minute behind the Boonen group.
In between, Luke Rowe (Team Sky) and Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) were among those closing in on the counter-attack fast, while the break still led by more than a minute.
They bridged across just before hitting the Hornaing-Wandignies sector, forming a group of 19 riders at just less than a minute behind the breakaway, while Cancellara’s team-mates – notably Jasper Stuyven – helped close the gap behind too.
Crashes continued, however, with Gianni Moscon, Rowe and Salvatore Puccio all crashing as Team Sky led the peloton, while Cancellara hit the deck on the Mons-en-Pevele sector.
Only Boonen, Stannard, Boasson Hagen, Vanmarcke, Alexsejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling) and, from the original breakaway, Hayman and Imanol Erviti (Movistar) remained up front.
Rowe, Marcel Sieberg (Lotto-Soudal) and Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling) managed to bridge across on the cobbles between Pont-Thibaut and Ennevelin though.
With the Welshman suffering for his efforts to chase back on, however, he sacrificed himself for Stannard and his efforts meant only Stannard, Boonen, Vanmarcke, Hayman and Boasson Hagen remained in the front group on the Carrefour de l’Arbre.
Vanmarcke kicked first, and briefly earned a gap, but all five were back together with 12km to go, prompting more attacking from first Vanmarcke and then Stannard.
Inside the final five kilometres, Hayman, Boonen and Stannard all kicked – nobody willing to gamble on a sprint but again, with 3km to go the quintet was back together.
Boonen and Hayman did earn a gap into the velodrome, though, with Vanmarcke on their tails and Boasson Hagen and Stannard in hot pursuit.
Come the bell lap, the three behind were closing in fast, but it was the Australian victorious in the sprint to claim his first Monument win at the age of 37.
“The only emotion I felt was disbelief. To win Paris-Roubaix is pretty surreal," Hayman said. “But I think I’ve done my time, I’ve ridden Roubaix 15 times; I’ve sprinted on the track for a top ten. Sometimes you have to go for it and sometimes good things happen.
"If someone had told me this morning I’d win Paris-Roubaix, I wouldn’t have believed them, no way. Other years I’d dared to dream about it and in other years I felt good. This year was different.
“I haven’t really raced since breaking my arm in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The doctors were pretty convinced that my Classics were done but I really wanted to get back as quickly as possible.
“This race is huge for me. If you speak to anyone at Orica-GreenEdge, they know this is the one race that is really special for me. It’s the one race I talk about from October and I’ve done it 15 times now, and I always finished it."
Paris-Roubaix 2016: result
1) Mat Hayman (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 5.51.53hrs
2) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Etixx-QuickStep – ST
3) Ian Stannard (GBR) – Team Sky
4) Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) – LottoNL-Jumbo
5) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Team Dimension Data +3"
6) Heinrich Haussler (AUS) – IAM Cycling +1.00
7) Marcel Sieberg (GER) – Lotto-Soudal – ST
8) Aleksejs Saramotins (LTV) – IAM Cycling
9) Imanol Erviti (ESP) – Movistar +1.07
10) Adrien Petit (FRA) – Direct Energie +2.20
14) Luke Rowe (GBR) – Team Sky +2.20
30) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Team Dimension Data +7.12