Analysis: the winners and losers of the 2016 cobbled Classics

Who shone and who failed to ignite the racing this spring?

Paris-Roubaix brought a close to the 2016 cobbled Classics season, and eyes will now turn to the hilly Ardennes Classics before focus shifts once again to the Giro d’Italia and the season’s first Grand Tour.

Mat Hayman (Orica-GreenEDGE) claimed victory in Roubaix, his first Monument at the age of 37, while world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) ended his Monument duck with victory at the Tour of Flanders – one week on from winning Gent-Wevelgem.

Peter Sagan enjoyed two wins and a second place in the four major cobbled Classics (pic: Sirotti)

In fact, it was a great few weeks for the man in the rainbow jersey, who was also second at E3 Harelbeke, behind Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky).

The 2016 cobbled Classics also marked the end of an era, with Fabian Cancellara bidding farewell to the pave as he prepares to retire at the end of the season.

With racing in Flanders done and dusted, and iconic cobbled hills like the Koppenberg once again just regular farm roads, what can we take from the 2016 races? We’ve picked out some of the winners and losers from this year’s cobbled Classics campaign.

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) – winner

When Greg van Avermaet beat Peter Sagan to overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico by a solitary second, after both men had emptied themselves in the final stage time trial, it looked like it was going to be one of those years for the Slovakian.

And when he found himself on the second step of the podium again, after a great ride alongside Michal Kwiatkowski at E3 Harelbeke, it only strengthened the suggestion.

Curse? What curse? Peter Sagan found winning form at the perfect time (Pic: Sirotti)

That was the 69th individual second place of Sagan’s career but the world champion hit back in style.

A gritty win at Gent-Wevelgem was a reminder of what Sagan is capable of, and the Tour of Flanders success which followed was a huge milestone in his career.

A first Monument, achieved while wearing the rainbow jersey, after showing incredible strength to repeatedly attack before ridding himself of Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg, was Sagan at his very best.

Paris-Roubaix didn’t go to plan, getting caught behind crashes and ultimately missing out on a top-ten place in the final sprint, but the ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’ looks to be well and truly banished.

Results: E3 Harelbeke – 2nd; Gent-Wevelgem – 1st; Tour of Flanders – 1st; Paris-Roubaix – 11th

Team Sky – winners

Team Sky’s search for their elusive first Monument goes on, but Britain’s only WorldTour team are getting closer and closer.

After Ben Swift kicked off the spring Classics with second at Milan-San Remo, Team Sky carried that momentum onto the cobbles.

Michal Kwiatkowski celebrates after beating Peter Sagan to victory at E3 Harelbeke (pic: Sirotti)

Michal Kwiatkowski wasn’t given the opportunity to shine at the cobbled Classics when he was an Etixx-QuickStep riders, in a team packed with specialists, but he seized his opportunity with Team Sky at E3 Harelbeke as he soloed to victory.

At the Tour of Flanders, meanwhile, Luke Rowe finished fifth to prove once again he has a bright future in the cobbled Classics, before putting in a huge shift on behalf of Ian Stannard at Paris-Roubaix, despite crashing earlier in the race.

Geraint Thomas also impressed. Having dedicated himself to stage racing in 2016, the Welshman still produced a strong ride at the Tour of Flanders, one of his favourite races of the year – finishing 12th, in the same group as Rowe, and suggesting he could have got more.

And then just to remind us all of the options now at Team Sky’s disposal on the cobbles, Ian Stannard claimed a British joint-best of third at Paris-Roubaix to close the campaign, the same position he also finished at E3 Harelbeke.

Victory continues to elude Team Sky in the Monuments, but Dave Brailsford and co have every reason to be confident moving forward – and with Kwiatkowski in good form, Liege-Bastogne-Liege could be the race in which they finally end their duck.

Results: E3 Harelbeke – Michal Kwiatkowski, winner, Ian Stannard, third; Gent-Wevelgem – Luke Rowe, 22nd; Tour of Flanders – Luke Rowe, fifth; Paris-Roubaix – Ian Stannard, third.

Sep Vanmarcke – winner

Sep Vanmarcke did seemingly everything but claim victory at the cobbled Classics. However, with the Belgian powerhouse enjoying another fortnight of consistent results, he emerges from the campaign as one of our winners.

Vanmarcke’s attacking instinct shone throughout, with second place at Gent-Wevelgem, third at the Tour of Flanders and fourth at Paris-Roubaix his rewards for aggressive rides in all three races.

Sep Vanmarcke was in the top ten at all four major cobbled Classics, and on the podium twice (pic: Sirotti)

A win continues to elude him, but the 27-year-old continues to go close and it seems implausible that he will finish his career without making the breakthrough on the cobbles.

While some may consider Vanmarcke’s campaign disappointing having not stood on the top step of the podium, it would do a great discredit to his consistency and aggressive style.

Vanmarcke remains one of the key men to watch in the spring, and there will be plenty willing him to finally claim a victory in 2017.

Results: E3 Harelbeke – 8th; Gent-Wevelgem – 2nd; Tour of Flanders – 3rd; Paris-Roubaix – 4th

Imanol Erviti – winners

Chances are, Movistar’s 32-year-old Spaniard Imanol Erviti won’t be the first name you think of when it comes to the cobbled Classics, despite the fact he has raced at every Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix since turning pro in 2005.

That probably says a lot about Erviti’s previous performances on the cobbles, and the Movistar team’s record in the northern Classics, but that might be about to change after two impressive showings from Erviti just seven days apart.

Imanol Erviti rode in the break at both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix and went on to claim top-ten places at both (Pic: Sirotti)

In the break at the Tour of Flanders, Erviti was the last of that move to be caught and managed to stick with the main group of contenders to hold on for seventh place.

And as if to prove it was not just a one-off, he repeated the trick at Paris-Roubaix a week later – eventually finishing in ninth place in the Roubaix velodrome.

Of course, Mat Hayman’s victory – having also been in the day’s break – somewhat overshadowed Erviti’s achievement but the Spaniard was the surprise package of the cobbled Classics.

Results: Tour of Flanders – 7th; Paris-Roubaix – 9th

The ‘old guard’ – winners

It may not have been the rider everyone expected to fly the flag for the old guard at Paris-Roubaix – even up to the final sprint to the line – but Mat Hayman’s victory was the icing on the cake following a string of strong performance from the peloton’s Classics veterans.

Fabian Cancellara, of course, stole the pre-race headlines as he bid farewell to the cobbled Classics after three wins apiece at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

Tom Boonen acknowledges the crowd, after his seventh Paris-Roubaix podium (pic: Sirotti)

And after two fourth places at E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, and then second at the Tour of Flanders, it looked like Spartacus was building perfectly for a final hurrah at Paris-Roubaix.

As it was, his luck ran out and crashes ended his hopes, before he suffered another, more embarrassing spill as he rode a lap of honour in the Roubaix velodrome with a Swiss flag.

However, Cancellara’s long-time Classics rival, Tom Boonen, put in a fine ride to finish second and show there’s life in the 35-year-old’s legs yet – but even the seven-time Monument winner couldn’t stop 37-year-old Hayman as he sprinted to victory.

Fabian Cancellara acknowledges the Flandrian crowd for the final time (pic: Sirotti)

Cancellara’s career is coming to a close and, regardless of what Boonen decides to do next, the Belgian’s time will also soon come to an end, but both once again showed their true class.

As for Mat Hayman, his first Monument may well also be his last – but he proved there is no substitute for experience when it matters most, winning in Roubaix on his 16th appearance in the race.

Results: E3 Harelbeke – Fabian Cancellara, 4th; Gent-Wevelgem – Fabian Cancellara, 4th; Tour of Flanders – Fabian Cancellara, 2nd; Paris-Roubaix – Mat Hayman, winner, Tom Boonen, second

Etixx-QuickStep – losers

While Tom Boonen finished second at Paris-Roubaix, his Etixx-QuickStep team failed to win any of the four UCI WorldTour cobbled races for the second year running.

Patrick Lefevere’s Belgium super team are the big hitters when it comes to the cobbled Classics, racing on ‘home soil’, with a team packed full of big-name cobble-busting stars.

Etixx-QuickStep have not won one of the major cobbled Classics since Niki Terpstra’s Paris-Roubaix win in 2014. They only got one podium place in 2016, too (Pic: Sirotti)

In fact, Marcel Kittel’s victories at Scheldeprijs and on stage 3a of Three Days of De Panne are the only victories on the cobbles of any sort to their name in 2016.

And, whereas in 2015 QuickStep riders were second in all four of the major one-day cobbled races, the team doesn’t have that consolation this year either, with Boonen’s Paris-Roubaix runner-up spot their only podium finish.

To rub salt into the wounds, it was a former QuickStep man, Michal Kwiatkowski, who won at E3 Harelbeke – a race which at one point had seen four Etixx men in the front group.

Big things are expected of Etixx-QuickStep in the cobbled Classics, but – for all the talent packed into the team, and all their attacking intent – they were unable to deliver.

Results: E3 Harelbeke – Matteo Trentin, 12th; Gent-Wevelgem – Fernando Gaviria, 6th; Tour of Flanders – Zdenek Stybar, 8th; Paris-Roubaix – Tom Boonen, 2nd

Alexander Kristoff – loser

Winner at Milan-San Remo in 2014 and the Tour of Flanders last year, big things were expected of Alexander Kristoff, particularly with John Degenkolb out injured.

But the Norwegian suffered one of his worst spring campaigns for some time, failing to make an impression on any of the cobbled Classics.

Alexander Kristoff rode a passive race at the Tour of Flanders (pic: Sirotti)

Finishing 53rd at E3 Harelbeke and then being ruled out of Gent-Wevelgem with illness pointed to things not being right, but when Kristoff stormed back to win the first stage of De Panne expectations were raised once again.

But while he finished the Tour of Flanders in fourth, Kristoff rode a passive race and never looked likely to get on to the podium – and his campaign finished with a 48th place at Paris-Roubaix, more than 14 minutes in arrears.

By his own admission, Paris-Roubaix is by far his least favourite of the cobbled Classics so a credible fourth at the Ronde, having been ill a week before, is by no means a bad result.

But Kristoff has raised expectations with his two Monument wins in the last two years, so to finish the spring without even a podium place in the major races is a thumbs down from us.

Results – E3 Harelbeke – 53rd; Gent-Wevelgem – DNS; Tour of Flanders – 4th; Paris-Roubaix – 48th

Greg van Avermaet – loser

Not all those riders who suffered a disappointing spring campaign did so due to bad form. Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) who was the form man heading into the cobbled Classics after a stunning start to the season but saw his campaign ultimately curtailed by a crash.

Winner of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, top ten at both Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo and a surprise overall winner at Tirreno-Adriatico, after extreme weather forced the cancellation of the high mountain stage, Van Avermaet was seemingly the man to beat this spring.

Greg van Avermaet was a man on top form – but illness and injury halted his momentum at the worst possible time (Pic: Sirotti)

But illness slowed his momentum, forcing him to miss E3 Harelbeke and, after bouncing back to finish ninth at Gent-Wevelgem, a crash at the Tour of Flanders brought his spring to an end.

One of five BMC Racing riders brought down in a crash with more than 100km still to race, a broken collarbone left one of the pre-race favourites crumpled in tears at the roadside.

BMC Racing DS Valerio Piva summed it up well, concluding: “He was ready to win the Tour of Flanders but instead he’s ended up in hospital.”

Van Avermaet, who had finished third at both the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix 12 months ago, will look back on 2016 as the year of what might have been.

Results – E3 Harelbeke – DNS; Gent-Wevelgem – 9th; Tour of Flanders – DNF

Rider safety – loser

Much has been said about rider safety this spring, but it is well worth reiterating following the tragic death of Antoine Demoitie at Gent-Wevelgem.

The 25-year-old, who had been part of the break at E3-Harelbeke two days earlier, was one of a number of riders to crash as the peloton temporarily crossed into France, and the Wanty-Groupe Gobert rider was then hit by a motorbike and died in hospital.

Wanty-Groupe Gobert paid tribute to Antoine Demoitie before the Ronde – their team-mate died after being hit by a motorbike at Gent-Wevelgem (pic: Sirotti)

It follows a string of incidents in the past 12 months or so, which also included Lotto-Soudal’s Stig Broeckx suffering a bad fall at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne this year after being hit by a motorbike.

Also 25, Broeckx has not raced since suffering a broken collarbone as a result of the crash, while at the Tour of Flanders in 2015 the Shimano neutral service car caused two crashes.

– Peter Sagan leads tributes to Antoine Demoitie – 

Gianni Bugno, president of the CPA and a former Tour of Flanders champion, led the calls for an urgent review into rider safety.

And while the UCI said they were co-operating with the relevant authorities to investigate the incident, Team Sky’s Elia Viviani was then hit by a motorbike at Paris-Roubaix as the Italian bid to avoid a crash in front of him.

In the modern era, where the demand for immersive coverage is at an all-time high – Paris-Roubaix was broadcast live in its entirety for the first time – race motorbikes have an important part to play in broadcasting the sport. But rider safety must come first and the 2016 spring Classics end with the UCI and race organisers needing to make the issue a priority.


Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.