Roubaix Rewind: Roger Hammond third as Magnus Backstedt spoils Johan Museeuw’s farewell in 2004

National champion goes closer than anyone to breaking Britain's Paris-Roubaix duck

This year’s Paris-Roubaix will be the 114th running of the famous cobbled Classic – the third of the season’s five Monument races.

In that time, Belgians have claimed victory on some 55 occasions – De Vlaeminck, Boonen, Van Looy, Museeuw and Merckx all among the famous Belgians to have won the race – and the French have topped the podium 30 times.

Magnus Backstedt celebrates winning the 2004 Paris-Roubaix with second-placed Tristan Hoffman and British champion Roger Hammond, who finished third (pic: Sirotti)

For the British, however, only two men have ever even earned a podium finish – Barry Hoban, who finished third in 1972, and Roger Hammond in 2004.

– Interview: Magnus Backstedt on winning the 2004 Paris-Roubaix –

And of the two, it was Hammond’s third place 12 years ago which remains the closest a Brit has ever come to taking home the famous cobblestone trophy, losing out in the four-way final sprint to Magnus Backstedt and Tristan Hoffman, with a young Fabian Cancellara, this year set to ride his final Paris-Roubaix, fourth..

Ahead of Sunday’s Queen of the Classics, we’ve wound back the clock to relive the action from that famous race.

Setting the scene – Museeuw’s final bow, Van Petegem defending champion

Pre-race, the biggest story of Paris-Roubaix was the impending retirement of 38-year-old Johan Museeuw, the Lion of Flanders.

The three-time former champion was targeting a record-equalling fourth Paris-Roubaix win, having also been victorious in 1996, 2000 and 2002.

For the Belgians, however, the tide was already turning with Museeuw in his twilight years and new stars entering the scene.

Peter van Petegem was defending champion, having achieved a Flanders-Roubaix double in 2003 (pic: Sirotti)

Peter van Petegem, 34 at the time, can hardly be classed as a new star, but he went into the race as defending champion after doing the Flanders-Roubaix double the previous year.

Among the newer generation, Museeuw’s team-mate Tom Boonen had finished third in 2002 and was in top form having won both Gent-Wevelgem and E3 in the build-up to the race.

Elsewhere, a week earlier, Germany’s Steffen Wesemann – riding for T-Mobile – had won the Tour of Flanders.

British champion Roger Hammond was one of four Brits on the startline, alongside team-mate Jeremy Hunt, CSC’s Max Sciandri and Bradley Wiggins, who was riding for Credit Agricole ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games.

Hammond’s cyclo-cross background – he had sealed his fifth consecutive national title earlier in 2004 – along with his big engine and tough resolve made him an ideal contender for the cobbled Classics.

Sixth at Gent-Wevelgem and Le Samyn, and third at Dwars door Vlaanderen, meant Hammond was enjoying a strong spring campaign.

Roger Hammond’s cyclo-cross background made him well-placed for the cobbled Classics (pic: Sirotti)

Sweden’s Magnus Backstedt, 29, had come second at Gent-Wevelgem and the one-time former Tour de France stage winner had a previous best at Paris-Roubaix of seventh in 1998.

Also among the starters, and riders who would have a big part to play on the day included CSC’s Tristan Hoffman – twice a fourth-place finisher in the race – and a 23-year-old Fabian Cancellara, riding just his second Paris-Roubaix.

The route – 26 secteurs, 51.1km of cobbles

There were 26 sections of cobblestones on the 2004 Paris-Roubaix route, kicking off at Troisvilles just short of the 100km mark.

Fans line the Arenberg Forest which, as is still the case today, was one of three 5*-rated secteurs (pic: Sirotti)

As with the route for the 2016 race, three of the pavé secteurs were marked with the maximum difficulty level of five stars: Arenberg Forest at 166.5km, Mons-en-Pévèle after 213.2km and le Carrefour de l’Arbre, which featured 15km before the finish in Roubaix.

Among the newer sections included Le Moulin de Vertain, secteur six, which had only been dug out for the 100th edition two years previously.

How the race unfolded

The race started in typical fashion, with a fast pace from the gun and a number of short-lived breaks before a five-man move eventually earned a gap.

Further back, Museeuw’s QuickStep-Davitamon team led the chase and the peloton was back together on the run-in to Arenberg Forest, where Rolf Aldag attacked.

Cancellara bridged across on the iconic secteur and with him dragged a number of favourites, with all present in the 20-man group which formed over the cobbles.

Boonen upped the ante for QuickStep, while USPS rider George Hincapie also shared in the pace-setting as they chased lone escapee Jaan Kirsipuu.

After safely negotiating sector ten, Museeuw then kicked hard and got a small gap alongside Backstedt before returning to the elite front group.

Hammond also tried his luck, as nobody was able to make a move a stick, but while he couldn’t get away, the Brit’s two big digs reduced the numbers in the front group.

Tom Boonen and Magnus Backstedt set the pace on the Arenberg Forest sector (pic: Sirotti)

Next to try was Boonen, who kicked hard and forced another selection on the Bourghelles pavé, with only Hincapie and Juan Antonio Flecha on his tail.

It was finally on the so-often decisive Carrefour de l’Arbre secteur where the winning selection was made, with Museeuw’s accelerations proving decisive.

Hincapie, Hammond, Hoffman, Backstedt and Cancellara emerged at the front, alongside Museeuw, though Hincapie was soon dropped.

But just as Museeuw’s fairytale farewell, in his final Paris-Roubaix, looked to be playing out he suffered a rear wheel puncture to cruelly end his race.

– Related reading: Roger Hammond on how to ride the cobbles –

Hincapie and the resurgent Van Petegem joined him for the chase, but the leading four were too far in front, leaving Hammond, Hoffman, Backstedt and Cancellara preparing to fight it out for victory.

Cancellara led the way into the velodrome, with Hammond on his wheel, and the Brit opened up his sprint after the Swiss rider’s acceleration.

Magnus Backstedt celebrates his sprint victory in the Roubaix velodrome (pic: Sirotti)

But Backstedt spotted a gap and kicked hard, claiming his – and his country’s – first ever Paris-Roubaix win.

Hoffman took second, with Hammond third and Cancellara fourth, before Museeuw and Van Petegem crossed the finish line together, hand-in-hand, with the former in tears.

Hunt was the only other Brit to finish, coming in 79th, with Wiggins and Sciandri both recording DNFs.

Paris-Roubaix 2004: result

1) Magnus Backstedt (SWE) – Alessio-Bianchi – 6.40.26hrs
2) Tristan Hoffman (NED) – Team CSC – ST
3) Roger Hammond (GBR) – MrBookmaker-Palmans
4) Fabian Cancellara (SUI) – Fassa Bortolo
5) Johan Museeuw (BEL) – QuickStep-Davitamon +17”
6) Peter van Petegem (BEL) – Lotto-Domo – ST
7) Leon van Bon (NED) – Lotto-Domo +29”
8) George Hincapie (USA) – US Postal Service – ST
9) Tom Boonen (BEL) – QuickStep-Davitamon
10) Frank Hoj (DEN) – Team CSC

The aftermath – Museeuw: “I cried like a child”

Alongside Backstedt’s victory, the immediate story was Museeuw’s heart-breaking Paris-Roubaix farewell.

The Belgian admitted to crying like a child post-race, adding: “As a sportsman I have a big heart, but as a human being, I’m a simple Fleming of flesh and blood – with a small heart.”

Peter van Petegem and Johan Museeuw finish together in the latter’s final race (pic: Sirotti)

He explained further: “My fourth win was so close, and I heard the psss of my puncture. Right then I knew that this time my career was over.”

Museeuw’s final race came at Scheldeprijs a few days later, where team-mate Tom Boonen won, though the Lion of Flanders’ career was to end under a cloud after he was implicated in a doping scandal and, post-retirement, handed a two-year ban.

In 2007, he admitted to “not being completely honest in my final year as a professional”.

For Hammond, he admitted getting a podium place and having been in with a chance of winning was “a dream come true” but he would not return to the Paris-Roubaix podium.

He later told RCUK: “It was always my dream to win Paris-Roubaix, so 2004 is a bittersweet memory.

“Unfortunately I didn’t win it and I didn’t make too many mistakes in the majority of the race, but made a massive mess up on the track so it’s a bittersweet memory really. I really felt like one of the stronger guys there.”

The Brit will be at Paris-Roubaix this year as a directeur sportif for Mark Cavendish’s Team Dimension Data.

Backstedt, meanwhile, put his victory down to keeping things simple with his bike, studying the race and relying on his track background.

Roger Hammond reflects on what might have been after the podium ceremony (pic: Sirotti)

“When I got boxed in on the back straight I didn’t panic, and never even thought about going round the top because that surely would have lost me the race,” he recalled in 2014.

“I just stayed cool and knew as close to 100 per cent as you are ever going to get that Cancellara would move slightly up the track. And then it was just a question of me being ready and reacting to it. It was probably the only way to win that bike race at that point.”

The victory was to remain the biggest of his career. The Swede joined Liquigas when Alessio-Bianchi folded at the end of the year, and later rode for Slipstream (the precursor to Garmin, and now Cannondale).

– Fabian Cancellara v Tom Boonen: the rivalry –

A brief comeback on the UK domestic circuit followed, and the 41-year-old is now often found in the British Eurosport commentary booth.

Cancellara narrowly missed out on the podium in 2004 but Spartacus goes into his final Paris-Roubaix this year (2016) in the same position Museeuw was 12 years ago – one win short of a record-equaling four.

Wiggins, of course, went on to win three Olympic medals in Athens and hasn’t done too badly since then either…

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