John Degenkolb sprinted to victory at Paris-Roubaix from a seven-man front group, to seal his second Monument win of the season.
The German fast man outsprinted Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Etixx-QuickStep’s Zdenek Stybar in the Roubaix Velodrome after an enthralling race ended with a bunch sprint.
Stybar had team-mate Yves Lampaert for company in the front group, but Degenkolb was too fast despite the Belgian’s lead-out to celebrate another huge triumph.
The race was packed full of drama almost from the off, with the typical array of crashes, punctures and attacks and even a temporary halt at a level crossing which dissected the peloton.
Britain’s Adam Blythe (Orica-GreenEDGE) was in the day’s main break, which eventually established after more than 30 kilometres, with Bart de Clercq and Sean de Bie (Lotto-Soudal) also in the eight-man front group.
In the peloton there was plenty of drama, with Shane Archbold (Bora-Argon 18) crashing on the Arenberg – though the drama in the Trench was nothing compared to what was to follow.
As a level crossing came down just a few kilometres later, half of the peloton were caught behind it – some riders having opted to ignore the warnings of the police to skip across just before the train approached.
The delay was temporary, with the peloton waiting for those caught behind, but Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) saw his hopes obliterated by a crash moments later – he jumped back on, with a new bike, but the pace in the peloton had ramped up too much.
Team-mate Ian Stannard was having more success, marking several moves off the front as Etixx-QuickStep looked to apply some pressure.
The pace caused several splits in the peloton, with Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) caught out alongside Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) among others, but they were all able to chase back on.
Matteo Trentin and Stijn Vandenbergh both tried attacks for Etixx-QuickStep before Wiggins earned a gap on sector seven, joining Vandenbergh, Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) in a short-lived move.
Katusha worked hard to bring Wiggins back, however, and he was caught wanting when Sep Vanmarcke ignited the race with 23km remaining on sector six.
Again, however, Wiggins chased back on – Vanmarcke puncturing just after his attack and finding himself in a chasing group further back, and Arnaud Demare (FDJ) also suffering an ill-timed mechanical.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) were all in the front group, before Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Soudal) and Borut Bozic (Astana) earned a 20-second lead.
Roelandts distanced his breakaway companion on the next sector of cobbles while riders continued to escape off the front behind.
Still the Belgian led as they hit the Carrefour de l’Arbre, however, but the gap to the group of favourites – led by Team Sky’s Luke Rowe – held steady.
Vanmarcke and Lars Boom (Astana) were also well-placed, with Wiggins still in the chasing group too – Rowe’s efforts cutting the gap to the lone leader almost in half.
Bozic and Boom continued to accelerate for Astana, meanwhile – though Degenkolb would not be shaken either as the attacks kept on coming.
Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) bridged to Roelandts with less than 14km to go, bringing the elite front group with him.
Boom attacked again, off Terpstra’s wheel, but the group again came back together as Sagan furiously battered his brake lever with an apparent problem – the Slovakian champion dropping to the back moments later.
Lampaert was next off the front, van Avermaet finding his wheel and working to build a small advantage, with Bert de Backer (Giant-Alpecin) leading Degenkolb in a counter-attack.
Degenkolb caught the Belgian duo with six kilometres remaining, but immediately found himself doing all the work on the front as the gap van Avermaet and Lampaert had worked so hard to establish was quickly cut.
Four riders chased behind – Stybar, Boom, Keukeleire and Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling) – before Stybar rid himself of the other three in a bid to lend Lampaert support on the front.
Wiggins also attempted a counter-attack further back, while Etixx-QuickStep immediately looked to push their numerical advantage in the front quartet.
All seven riders were together at the front by the time they reached Roubaix, with Lampaert leading the way in, but Degenkolb could not be stopped – proving himself as one of this generation’s major Classics contenders.
Paris-Roubaix 2015: result
1) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Alpecin – 5.49.51hrs
2) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Etixx-QuickStep – ST
3) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing
4) Lars Boom (NED) – Astana
5) Martin Elmiger (SUI) – IAM Cycling
6) Jens Keukeleire (BEL) – Orica-GreenEDGE
7) Yves Lampaert (BEL) – Etixx-QuickStep +7”
8) Luke Rowe (GBR) – Team Sky +28”
9) Jens Debusschere (BEL) – Lotto-Soudal +29”
10) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – Katusha +31”