Photo courtesy FRANCOIS LO PRESTI
Just one week after winning the Tour of Flanders, Fabian Cancellara added the 108th edition of Paris-Roubaix to his list of victories on Sunday.
The Swiss strongman caught Tom Boonen napping with about 50km to go and shot away from the Quick Step captain and a short list of elite favorites to solo in for a well-deserved victory, his second on the Roubaix velodrome.
Boonen struggled to organize a chase, but nobody was interested in towing the three-time Roubaix champion to the line, and what should have been a pursuit instead became a series of attacks and counters in a race for second place.
Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) easily won that contest, two minutes after Cancellara had crossed the line, with Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) third. As for Boonen, he had to settle for fifth at 3:14, behind Cervélo’s Roger Hammond.
The 2010 edition of the “Queen of the Classics” covered 259km from Compiegne to Roubaix, with 52km of cobbles in 27 sections, beginning at the 98km mark. There was a slight chance of rain, but an absolute certainty of wind — it was blowing at 22kph from the northeast, with stronger gusts.
After some 66km of racing a break of 19 riders had about a minute on the rest of the field, with another 40 riders trailing the main field by about 20 seconds.
The break built a lead of more than three minutes before Saxo Bank moved to the front and started driving the pace for Cancellara. With 116km to go they had trimmed the leaders’ advantage to less than three minutes, with Saxo’s Gustav Larsson setting pace in the main pack, and Boonen parked on Cancellara’s wheel. Stuart O’Grady was there, too, along with Bernard Eisel (HTC-Columbia) and Lars Boom (Rabobank).
O’Grady cracked the bunch going into the Arenberg Forest. Cancellara, Boonen, George Hincapie (BMC), Hushovd and Flecha were among the big names making the split. Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) was having a rough day after several crashes.
But Saxo Bank was not — it had five riders driving that chase, and the original break was down to nine riders and its lead slashed to just 90 seconds.
Cancellara punctured but never panicked — he took a spare bike and Breschel and O’Grady helped pace him back. Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack) and Martin Tjallingi (Rabobank) had a go while Cancellara was working his way back to the bunch, but got nowhere.
At sector 14 of pavé Team Sky took over the pacemaking, with Michael Barry driving it for Flecha. Boonen and Cancellara were there, too, as were Hincapie, Hushovd, Flecha — and, astoundingly, Devolder, who appeared to have rebounded from his troubles.
The crumbling break, down to Hansen, Wynants and Hunt, hung just meters off the front, riding at the margins of the cobbles, as the bunch approached the feed zone with 64km to race. Cancellara tested Boonen on the cobbles, but the big Belgian was up to the challenge, and their fencing finally retrieved the lead trio.
Boonen jumped with 60km to go, but that was a move destined to go precisely nowhere. And then he went again, powering away onto the cobbles of sector 12, with Cancellara chasing hard. The big Swiss caught him, trailed by Hushovd and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), and then Hammond counter-attacked. Boonen brought him back, and when the dust had settled there was a lead group of some 25 riders with 57km to race.
Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) tried a dig, but Boonen marked him. Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Sebastian Hinault (Ag2r La Mondiale) were next to have a go, but when 1997 Roubaix winner Frédéric Guesdon (Française des Jeux) bridged out to them the favorites quickly took an interest. Only Hinault remained out front as the race hit the next cobbled stretch with 50km to go, and that just barely — the Boonen group was content to let him dangle.
Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Leukemans shot away to join Hinault at the front — and shortly thereafter Cancellara took a flyer, too, quickly joining the lead trio and driving the pace over the cobbles of Mons-en-Pevele.
Boonen was caught out, back in the bunch. The Quick Step captain launched a belated chase, but Cancellara wasn’t waiting for him or anyone else. The big Swiss soon left his break-mates behind on the cobbles and powered on alone, with 21 seconds on his pursuers.
Boonen began looking around for help, but it seemed that nobody was interested in helping him chase Cancellara, who faced 44 long, lonely kilometers — and nine sections of cobbles — before the finish on the Roubaix velodrome.
Hushovd came to the front on sector nine at Pont-a-Marcq, lending some horsepower to the chase. Hoste, Flecha and Hammond were, there, too, as were Pozzato, Leukemans and Hinault. Hincapie and Eisel had dropped out of the contenders’ group; the American would finish 29th, more than seven minutes back. Meanwhile, Cancellara set about padding his advantage to 35 seconds, then 45.
At sector eight, at Pont-Thibaut, he had nearly a minute on the chase, which was hardly a well-oiled machine. Boonen kept trying to flog it along, but he wasn’t getting much cooperation.
Thirty-five kilometers from Roubaix Cancellara had nearly 90 seconds on his pursuers, a gap he padded on the next two cobbled sectors. Boonen was leading on the cobbles, with the two Cervélo riders bringing up the rear.
With 29km to go Cancellara’s lead was 1:45 and it seemed that whatever impetus the chase had once had was gone. After losing to him at the Tour of Flanders, Boonen had remarked that “if you give him a few meters, you won’t see him again,” and this was certainly looking to be the case. A few kilometers further along the road and the gap was more than two minutes
Sectors 6a and 6b were a dusty, noisy tunnel, with spectators three deep lining the roadside and the race leader surrounded by camera motos and support vehicles.
Behind, Flecha attacked, taking a significant gap over his erstwhile chase-mates with 23km to go. The hapless Boonen followed, dogged by Hushovd, in what was shaping up as a race for second place.
Boonen slowly dragged him back only to see Pozzato slip away, another escapee to be retrieved. Cancellara, meanwhile, was ticking off the kilometers, holding to a lead of 2:30 with 19km to go.
The Saxo man nearly came to grief 17km from the line on an upturned section of pavé, but kept the rubber side down and got back to business, his lead out to nearly three minutes.
Cancellara pounded along through a gantlet of screaming fans, dodging flapping flags and amateur cameramen crouched in his path. Behind, Flecha and Hushovd finally shed a weary Boonen, who had Hammond parked on his wheel.
Pozzato and Leukemans hooked up with Boonen and Hammond and with 10km to go the quartet trailed Flecha and Hushovd by a minute and Cancellara by nearly three and a half minutes.
Cancellara took a lead of just under three minutes into the final 5km. Flecha and Hushovd were making progress, but not quickly enough. They still trailed the leader by 2:27 as he entered the final kilometer and headed for the velodrome.
The bell rang and the smiling Swiss rolled casually around the track, straightening his jersey, thrusting both fists in the air, and then clutching his helmet with both hands as though he couldn’t believe what he’d just done.
2010 Paris-Roubaix results: