The sensational season of Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) continued with victory at Paris-Roubaix – the greatest success of his career.
The 29-year-old Dutchman raced ahead with an audacious attack just six kilometres from the finish, launched only moments after he had ridden with Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and his team-mate, the four-time winner, Tom Boonen, to reel in what had appeared to be a decisive move by the defending champion, Fabian Cancellara (Trek).
Despite coming close to crashing just seconds after he had broken clear, Terpstra kept a clear head and showed a fighting spirit to build a 20-second lead that proved insurmountable, despite the quality of the pursuing field.
The Dwars Door Vlaanderen winner, who began his season with overall victory at the Tour of Qatar, described today’s triumph in one of cycling’s five ‘Monuments’ as “a dream come true.”
“I’ve had some nice results, especially this year. To take the win, in the biggest Classic of all, is a dream come true,” he said. “It’s a race that suits me well. I’ve been out front there. My shape was really good. I was motivated for a good result here.”
John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) won a sprint for second place ahead of Cancellara, who was third.
The race in detail
An early eight-man breakaway still had an advantage of 6.21 over the peloton as the favourites approached the first true test of the race: the five-star rated cobbled secteur of the Trouee d’Arenberg.
With the Forest looming, Peter Sagan (Cannondale), suffered a puncture, followed by what appeared to be gear selection issues. The Slovak, winner of this season’s E3 Harelbeke, pumped hard at the right hand lever as his team-mate, Alan Magnoni, led him back through the support cars towards a fast-disappearing bunch.
Team Sky hit the front in numbers for the first time at the Haveluy, secteur 19, taking the centre of the cobbles, with Wiggins riding comfortably at third wheel. Boonen tucked himself onto the back of the black-and-blue train.
Enter the Arenberg
The breakaway hit the 2.4km Trouée d’Arenberg at speed, defending a still comfortable, but fast-diminishing lead of 4.38. NetApp-Endura’s Andreas Schillinger rode ahead of his confederates, hands on the tops of the bars, biceps shaking with the jarring of the cobbles.
Behind, the peloton swelled into a broad knot as each rider jostled for a position at the head of the field as the Forest approached. Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty Goubert), so effective a week previously at the Tour of Flanders, led the peloton across its infamous cobbles, with Team Sky’s Bernie Eisel on his wheel, and Degenkolb, winner a fortnight earlier at Gent-Wevelgem, at third wheel.
Behind them, casualties amounted in numbers, with NetApp-Endura’s Jan Barta left grimacing at the roadside after being pushed into the gutter and off his bike. Gregory Rast (Trek) hurled his machine into the forest in disgust, knowing that his race had effectively ended.
Katusha’s Milan-San Remo winner, Alexander Kristoff, was another high profile casualty of the Arenberg’s brutal pavé, despite remaining upright. The Norwegian suffered a puncture and was forced to pick his way through a strung out peloton, rider-by-rider, while the men with whom he shared the status of pre-race favourite were back on the smooth tarmac. He abandoned soon afterwards.
The favourites looked at each other on the approach to secteur 18, from Wallers to Hélesme, while at the rear, FDJ’s Davide Boucher, found himself caught at a level crossing and forced to wait as a train sped past. “Zero” he shouted at the television camera, before beginning the chase back on after the train had passed. Up ahead, Bram Tankink (Belkin) hit the dirt, forcing riders to navigate a course around him.
Last train to Hornaing
With the four-star rated pavé of Hornaing up ahead, the favourites appeared to declare a momentary truce, using the smooth tarmac to grab some respite, but the brief moment of tranquility was shattered when Trek’s Hayden Roulston inexplicably attempted – and then almost instantly abandoned – a bunny hop onto the curb. His resulting crash brought down most of the peloton, including his team leader, Cancellara. The riders ahead appeared to up the tempo in response, but perhaps sensing the injustice soon slowed again while those brought down recovered.
Just four riders remained of the breakaway as they reached the 2.4km stretch of pavé between Warlaing and Brillon. Behind them, the peloton toiled on the more demanding cobbles of Hornaing, and Sagan was soon picked out by the television cameras at the back. Boonen hit the front for the first time and split the bunch instantly, riding at the front of a phalanx of OPQS riders including Guillame Van Keirsbulck and Zdenek Stybar. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), third at last week’s Tour of Flanders after a day of attacks, was the first to respond to the opening charge by the Belgian super team.
Beware the mighty Thor
As they reached the safe harbour of the tarmac, the group came back together. Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) was next on the front, setting a demanding pace, perhaps to soften the bunch for a later attack from team-mate, Taylor Phinney. Hushovd’s acceleration caused another split, and the former world road race champion rode clear with about eight riders including Belkin’s Lars Boom. Cannondale were the first to sense the danger and drove the peloton in pursuit of Hushovd and his breakaway companions, soon snuffing out the Norwegian’s advantage.
Hushovd the poacher turned gamekeeper moments later, setting off in pursuit of IAM Cycling’s Martin Elmiger, but while he reached the Swiss, he could not pass him. His acceleration, however, was enough to drive him clear of the peloton for a second time and he soon rode as part of a six-man break that again included Boom.
Up ahead, just three riders from the original breakaway maintained their lead, hitting pavé secteur 14, from Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières, alone. Their margin had been reduced to 1.43, and a rampaging peloton, led by FDJ’s Arnaud Demare, rode with greater conviction. Team Sky leader, Edvald Boasson Hagen, hit the dirt on a sharp lefthand band, before Demare himself hit trouble with a puncture, sending Boonen to the head of the pack.
Back on the tarmac, the peloton briefly regrouped, perhaps sensing its proximity to the next secteur, from Beuvry-la-Forêt to Orchies.
Tornado Tom blows hot
A devastating attack from Boonen saw the four-time winner ride off the front on the extreme left of the road while team-mate Van Keirsbulck slowed the chasers, who were forced to sit behind him on the only rideable line. Boonen’s attack looked like a tactical masterstroke, and inspired panic behind. The ensuing crashes put paid to the challenge of Katusha’s Luca Paolini. Boonen looked back to his very best, oozing power and class as his rivals scrambled to respond.
The Belgian’s effort sent him up the road with a select group of riders, including Damian Gaudin (Ag2r-La Mondiale), fifth last year, and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky). Notably absent from the group was any rider from Trek Factory Racing. Their leader, Cancellara, was among those left watching some 15 seconds back, and surrounded by heavyweight representatives from teams with riders up the road, such as Wiggins and Terpstra.
The road to Orchies
Boonen and his confederates were soon back on pavé, this time the three-star rated, 1,700m secteur at Orchies. The four-time winner attacked again, while BMC Racing massed in numbers at the head of the pursuing peloton, perhaps sensing that the chances of Phinney and Van Avermaet were fast disappearing. Boonen, meanwhile, gestured angrily at the riders with him, chastising them for a perceived lack of effort.
He was soon back on the front, muttering and shaking his head, while Thomas sat second wheel. Boonen clearly felt that the escape was doomed unless he received greater support, and a lead of just 18 seconds gave credence to his fears. He flew through a roundabout on the opposite side from his confederates, showing his greater knowledge of the course, but the effort only placed him back on the front and exposed again to the wind.
An angry flick of the elbow from the four-time champion finally drew a response from Thomas, who came through to take a turn, but by then the writing appeared to be on the wall as they turned left onto the pavé for the four-star rated, secteur 11 from Aucy les Orchies to Bersée: 2.7km of hell.
Boonen, however, would not be denied, and attacked again, shattering the remains of the breakaway he had ridden with. Only Thomas, Yannick Martinez (Europcar), and Bart De Backer (Giant -Shimano) remained in contact as the OPQS leader accelerated viciously. At the end of the secteur, however, Boonen sat up with a look of disgust on his face. The sudden appearance of Hushovd would have done little to improve his mood.
The Norwegian upped the pace just 1km from the five-star Mons-en-Pévèle, just one of three cobbled secteurs in the race to gain the top rating. Boonen and Thomas showed renewed interest, while behind, a peloton packed with unquestioned talent – Cancellara, Wiggins, Peter Sagan (Cannondale), and Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) among them – pressed on with their pursuit.
Hushovd led the breakaway on to the Pévèle, claiming the centre of the road and riding with obvious power, his hands on the tops, while behind him, Boonen sat on his wheel with consummate ease. Even a French flag in the face from a spectator could not discourage Boonen, who appeared to be riding with the growing belief that Hushovd might prove a valuable ally.
A peloton seemingly in disarray trailed behind, with riders on the hard left and right hand side of the crippling pavé. Among them, Cancellara remained claim, but sent team-mates to the front. Boonen by contrast issued another series of angry exhortations to his breakaway companions as each took on gels. Despite his continued irritation, Boonen and his five confederates had increased their lead to 30 seconds.
Secteur nine was next on the riders’ radar, the two-star rated cobbles from Mérignies to Avelin. With just 42km remaining, Boonen pushed on again at the front, before Bart De Backer (Giant-Shimano) finally took a turn. Hushovd also put in a shift, and the gap rapidly expanded to 40 seconds.
With OPQS, Belkin, Team Sky, and BMC Racing all represented in the breakaway, and a 47-second deficit, Trek hit the front in numbers for the first time. Unsurprisingly, none of the riders who shadowed them, including the Team Sky trio of Wiggins, Boasson Hagen, and Luke Rowe, did anything to assist.
Vanmarcke lit up the race with a little more than 38km remaining, attacking on the pavé, and with Cancellara momentarily blocked, quickly opened a gap. The Swiss responded but Vanmarcke rode like a man possessed on the twisting cobbled road from Pont to Thibau, a 1.4km secteur with a three-star difficulty rating. Boom glued himself to Cancellara’s wheel, and Van Avermaet and Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp) were among the riders able to respond. Cancellara, cool to the last, promptly sat up, having halved the advantage of the Boonen group in a single effort.
Sagan was the next to try to take advantage of the Swiss rider’s seemingly outlandish confidence. Martin Wynants (Belkin) was first to respond, while up ahead, Boonen attacked from the front of the leading group. The Belgian’s advantage was short-lived, and it was the Welshman, Thomas, who pulled the trailing quintet back to his wheel as they hit the 500m stretch of cobbles from Templeuve to Moulin de Vertain.
Sagan and Wynant’s combined efforts quickly brought them to within 20 seconds of the leading group and Boonen gestured angrily again at his confederates, who had appeared to be making adequate progress.
With 25km remaining, and the leaders back on tarmac, Hushovd gave warning of his considerable remaining strength as the race sped towards secteur six, a combined 2.4km from Cysoing to Bourghelles and from Bourghelles to Wannehain.
Boonen responded immediately, riding off the front with De Backer, while behind chaos was unleashed by Cancellara, whose acceleration sparked panic. Van Avermaet crashed into a drainage ditch, but somehow managed to climb back on.
The shattered peloton attempted to regroup on the tarmac, and De Backer attacked. His effort was short lived and a suddenly expanded group of favourites rode on ahead. One of its more formidable members, Sagan, attacked on a tarmac climb with 23km remaining. Swiftly adopting a time trial position with his forearms resting on the bars, Sagan made hay while disarray clouded the efforts of the men he had left, with Boonen – finally – drifting to back. Just two kilometres later, and Sagan had built a 15-second lead over the Belgian’s group and 22 seconds over Cancellara and his men.
Sagan was the first on to the 1800m sector of pavé at Camphin-en-Pévèle, a demanding four-star test that the Slovak rode alone. Behind, Boom upped the pace for Belkin, and his team-mate, Vanmarcke, swept past into a tight right-hand turn. Cancellara, again recognising the danger presented by the man with whom he had duelled to the finish last year, responded, latching on to Vanmarcke’s rear wheel. OPQS posted a lieutenant in the shape of Stybar, while Degenkolb proved that he remained a threat.
Sagan, who lost buckets of time on the preceding secteur, redoubled his efforts as he hit the Carrefour de l’Arbre, arguably the toughest section of pavé. He called on all of his considerable bike handling skills to remain upright. Another rider who kept pedaling against the odds was Wiggins, who was nearly taken off by a spectator. Ahead, Vanmarcke pulled a bunny hop to remain in contact with Stybar. The Carrefour had delivered the excitement for which it is famed.
Sagan continued to lead but Vanmarcke and Cancellara were visibly quicker and soon swept past at an astonishing pace and the trio was among five men to have ridden clear by the end of this most punishing secteur, with Stybar and Degenkolb. Arguments began almost immediately, with Cancellara urging his confederates to greater effort and Sagan, cool as a cucumber, blanking him by taking a long swig from his bidon.
A talent-laden group pursued the quintet: Boonen, Wiggins, Terpstra, Thomas, and Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin-Sharp) among them. Ahead, Cancellara gestured at Stybar, who showed precisely no interest in assisting him, knowing that his team leader, Boonen, just 15-seconds behind, still had a very real chance of victory. The Swiss briefly took matters into his own hands, cornering at an impossible angle before sitting up and attempting again to exhort his confederates to a renewed attack.
Ten kilometres to go
Disarray infected the leaders as the 10km kite was passed while behind Wiggins and Boonen gave all that they had to close a 16-second gap. Thomas was next on the front for the pursuing group who by now had the leaders in sight, separated by just nine seconds. Sagan weaved at the head of the field, and as he looked causally over his shoulder it was suddenly to meet the gaze of Wiggins in full time trial mode.
With a union made, the selection who would now contest the finale read like a who’s who of professional cycling’s greatest riders, including Cancellara, Boonen, Wiggins, Sagan, Stybar, Thomas and Degenkolb.
‘Audacious’ barely describes Terpestra’s attack, launched just before the 6km to go mark. Riding with the form of his life, Boonen’s lieutenant almost came to immediate grief in a sharp left hand turn but somehow remained upright and pulled out an 11-second lead in just one kilometre.
Thomas launched an assault while Cancellara causally pulled out a gel, but the Welshman was unable to ride clear. Terpstra meanwhile raced on ahead with a face etched with pain and concentration and a lead of 14 seconds. Behind, Cancellara and Wiggins, two of the best time trialists in the history of the sport, raced side-by-side but without conviction. Sagan also sat high in the saddle, his hands on the tops and arms straightened. Terpstra, by contrast, was bent low over the bike and giving it everything.
At 3km to go, the race looked like Terpstra’s to lose. He had pulled out a lead of 18 seconds and his pursuers seemed to have settled for second place. Cancellara, inexplicably, failed to respond as the Dutchman rode onto the final section of pavé: secteur one.
Passing beneath the flamme rouge and onto the road leading to the Roubaix velodrome, Terpstra, did not ‘lift’ at all, beginning this two laps of the famous circuit at full gas. He gave it everything on the final lap too, anxiously looking to his left to see if his rivals were about to emerge, but they were still some 20 seconds behind.
Terpstra need not have worried – his work was done. Third last year, the tearful Dutchman broke down as the magnitude of his achievement sunk in. Degenkolb won the sprint for second ahead of a disconsolate Cancellara, while Vanmarcke, who had lost in the velodrome last year to the Swiss, finished fourth.
Paris-Roubaix 2014: result
1) Niki Terpstra (NED) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep 6.09.01
2) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Shimano +20″
3) Fabian Cancellara (SUI) – Trek – ST
4) Sepp Vanmarcke (BEL) – Belkin
5) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
6) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale
7) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky
8) Sebastian Langeveld (NED) – Garmin-Sharp
9) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Team Sky
10) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep