The Moment Paris-Roubaix Was Won

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Philippe Gilbert beats Nils Politt in the sprint in the Roubaix velodrome. He seemed the fresher for the sprint, but in a race packed with action and drama nothing could be taken for granted until the final metres when it was clear he was ahead and able to sit up for the victory salute.

The plat du jour was accompanied by a cold headwind starter and it took the best part of two hours for a breakaway to form, then suddenly we got two for the price of one. No sooner had a one promising move gone clear than a counter-move went in pursuit. They duly merged at the time of the first cobbled sectors to form a group of 23 riders which included several pre-race picks like Yves Lampaert, Matteo Trentin and Nils Politt, plus outsiders like Stefan Küng and Adrien Petit. This wasn’t the usual wildward invitees and if the race had been frantic from the start it came alive here with 150km to go. Team Sky and Lotto-Soudal chased as they’d missed the move – the story of their spring classics – and kept the group at one minute, a tight leash given how far there was to go to the finish and they were joined by Bahrain-Merida took over and closed the gap with about 120km still left. All throughout there were crashes, punctures and other incidents and some were already losing their grip on the race, notably Alexander Kristoff who had two punctures but plenty more.

On the long Quérénaing section of cobbles Florian Sénéchal accelerated and the front group split, this time Ag2r La Mondiale and Bora-Hansgrohe were on the wrong side of the move and chased for 10km to bring things back. It was hectic and still the race hadn’t reached the Arenberg forest, normally the point where things get serious.

Wout van Aert had the worst time in the Arenberg forest, TV reported derailleur problems and he could be seen labouring on the grass verge in a big gear. This would be the start of his woes as he’d get back to the group but need a bike change and crashed during the chase too, all while making a solo effort of 20km. He could surf the team cars but it was still a huge effort to get back and it would cost him but the persistence was impressive, especially as he had two team mates in the front group who didn’t come back to fetch him, the team later saying that because he was in the cars it wasn’t worth using riders to bring him back.

As Van Aert got back on, Wanty-Gobert’s Wesley Kreder was solo up the road then suddenly he became a target as Nils Politt attacked in the feedzone and the tall German with the seemingly permanent race rictus accompanied Philipe Gilbert, still cocooned in his long sleeve jersey, and Rudiger Selig they caught and then dropped Kreder. It was a brief tactical moment where Gilbert needed to work because he had team mates behind but Selig didn’t need to work because he had team mates behind; Gilbert needed to make rival teams work while Selig could sit tight knowing Sagan was behind, although easier said than done and the German was shaken off on the next cobbled sector.

Wout van Aert had only had 20km to eat, drink and compose himself before he accelerated on the long cobbled sector to Bersée, 55km to go and he was launching a move that would soon contain Peter Sagan, Sep Vanmarcke, Yves Lampaert, Ivan Garcia Cortina, Marc Sarreau and Christophe Laporte. The last three named would fade and 10km later Sagan, van Aert, Lampaert had bridged across to Gilbert and Politt to form a lead group of six riders with 30 seconds lead, a still slender lead but behind the star names were running out of team mates to chase and the gap grew to a minute with 40km to go, the first time any more in the race had taken a gap this big, helped by Deceuninck-Quickstep having Sénéchal and Štybar to mark any moves. No sooner did someone try to jump out of the group or take a pull on the front would they look around to see a blue gendarme policing their move. Politt looked to be tiring on the cobbles, he’d been active early in the race and was letting gaps open up but just held things together each time.

With 23m to go Philippe Gilbert attacked. His move was an attempt to solve the tactical conundrum. Deceuninck-Quickstep had two riders in Gilbert and Lampaert but Peter Sagan’s sprint was a worry. Sep Vanmarcke was a menace who could surprise and Wout van Aert seemed to be floating on the cobbles and has a quick finish too. So Gilbert’s move helped split up the group and reduce the rivals. Only for a moment the rivalry seemed to include his team mate.

The acceleration ejected van Aert who suddenly paid for all his earlier efforts but Gilbert looked over his shoulder to see Lampaert relaying Vanmarcke and the two came back. At least the move had shaken off van Aert, six were down to five.

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Gruson was the last tough cobbled sector of the day and the surprise was Politt’s attack, he got a gap and Peter Sagan waited, looking over his shoulder and inviting someone else to chase. Gilbert did and got across the German. Sagan looked like he was going hypoglycaemic and ready to raid a bakery en route while Sep Vanmarcke was having problems with his gearing too, he seemed stuck in the biggest gear on his bike. He could push on, literally, or stop for a bike change but lose time and concede the podium to Lampaert.

Gilbert and Politt approached the Roubaix velodrome with slender time gap and you wondered who was the more nervous about the return of Lampaert, Politt as he’d be outnumbered or Gilbert who risked ceding the win to another rider? Gilbert looked the fresher of the two but as they entered the velodrome Politt was alert and attentive, forcing Gilbert high on the banking but suddenly Gilbert dashed down the slope on the final bend and Politt could only watch.

Roubaix is about the story of those who tried but lost too. Sep Vanmarcke was an unlucky story of the day, fourth today for the third time, added to a second place too. But you make your own luck sometimes and he was one of several riders having trouble with Shimano’s electronic gears. Di2 is wonderful, an advantage over a mechanical set-up because it’s lighter to operate, and a rider can have extra buttons to shift gears from. But these gains are, to borrow a phrase, marginal and the downside is hugely asymmetric: a cable that unplugs, a battery fault or the rear mech going into crash mode and a major result is binned. Among the other pre-race picks Oliver Naesen never made the front group but finished 12th, his team mate Stijn Vandenbergh was like a metronome, chasing for ages but unable to close the gap. Greg Van Avermaet went one better, 11th but he missed the boat and each time he tried to chase it was too late. Evaldas Šiškevičius was the surprise top-10 of the day but he’s long been a strong rouleur who goes on long breakaways, if his Delko-Marseille team were invited to Paris-Roubaix then his past performances counted for plenty and we should note Joseph Areruya, whose name is a derivation of hallelujah, who finished outside the time limit, the first Rwandan to reach Roubaix.

The Verdict
A brilliant race, an exceptional edition of Paris-Roubaix with action for six hours, even the feedzones were ridden aggressively and it compares well with the 2016 edition, without the fairytale ending of Hayman but Gilbert’s still a story too. It took the best part of two hours for a breakaway to go and this contained some big names and from then on the scenario was packed with peripeteia, reversals of fortunes. The script kept changing and the result wasn’t obvious until the final 50 metres.

In cycling no sooner than a rider wins, then they’re invariably asked what they’ll win next, as if the win they’ve just taken is merely a path to something more. With Gilbert it’s whether he can win Milan-Sanremo, the one monument missing on his palmarès. The answer is that he won’t and it’s because he’s won today. Now he’s older, he’s got stamina for a long race but gone are the days when he could drown his rivals in lactic acid with an attack on a steep climb, the kind of effort essential to win in Sanremo, the 300km race that’s invariably decided in the final 7km. Gilbert’s win saved Belgian cycling this spring as they risked ending the cobbled classics season without a win from a Belgian rider.

Wout van Aert’s persistence was similar to Mathieu van der Poel’s resilience in last weekend’s Tour of Flanders, he chased for a long time to get back into contention and then launched a decisive move but he did pay for it. For effort we can see van Aert and raise with Politt. He went in the first big move, later attacked in the feedzone to draw out Gilbert and then pulled clear on the Gruson cobbles, he made every decisive move today and finished second for his efforts. He’s made Katusha-Alpecin’s spring campaign.

91 thoughts on “The Moment Paris-Roubaix Was Won”

  1. With the Alpecin failing to elevate Kittle this spring perhaps whatever toothpaste Politt uses comes on board instead. Pearly canines to adjust your contrast for, sparkling through his “race rictus” and the clouds of dust. Can see the Eurosport adverts now

  2. “Sagan looked like he was going hypoglycaemic and ready to raid a bakery en route” – class 🙂 Great spectacle as always, but this edition was a classic. Happy for Gilbert to win, he did not have a chance last year in the classics being mostly on team duties and seemed to have been out of the window this year after his illness but what a come back! Vanmarcke unlucky as always and I wonder why so many riders take a chance in P-R with electronic shifting. Cancellara knew about it all along.

  3. Oh man, what a race!

    It will be interesting to see if Gilbert really goes for his “Strive for 5”. At least you could say “Strive 4 5 is alive”. But really – does he go into specialty training for La Primavera which is propably the hardest monument to target and win, thereby walking away from getting more good results on the cobbles in his career’s autumn?
    It seems like a very unsure bet, but then again you’ve got to go for what motivates you. And in that sense Gilbert is one of the finest riders in today’s peloton, a rider who dares to go for a dream.
    When he bumped shoulders with someone in the break today, I got a flashback to when he was riding mano a mano with Scarponi in that rainy edition of Giro di Lombardia he won almost 10 years ago. What a long career this guy has had! Chapeau

    • I heard this statistic that he’s one at least one race in each of the seventeen years of his pro-carreer so far.
      Also he made the MSR podium once or twice, ages ago, so he’s probably the only rider still going to have finished on the podium of all five monuments.
      Both are quite awesome achievements. He’s also the only rider who has TWO chances of winning LBL this year but that’s a wholly different story INRNG will bring back up in the right time I suspect.

    • Gilbert winning all 5 monuments would be the greatest achievement of this cycling era. I hope he goes for it wholeheartedly, and I think from his comments he will.

  4. That last statement, 2nd at Roubaix makes the Spring campaign for Katusha.
    While 2nd at Flanders for DQT is a failure lol. Jarring but true.

    • It’s probably not the spring Katusha wanted either but at least they ended with this. But lots of teams have had a tough time in the spring classics. Movistar never hope for too much but signing Jürgen Roelandts didn’t change much (he’s been ill) while Dimension Data were about as visible. Lotto-Soudal seemed to struggle, putting their Ardennes riders into the cobbles and resting Ewan. Groupama-FDJ didn’t get much after Démare fell ill and Sky were hit by injuries to Moscon and van Baarle.

      • Talking of Dimension Data, last time Cav rode PR he had a very respectable placing of 30th (EBH finished 5th then, 45th this year to give context). I know he’s not had a very good time of late. But it leads me to wonder why he hasn’t ridden this race more.

  5. Stybar continues to underwhelm in contrast to the promise of his performances. Did he peak too early? Or is he just a level below all other favorites?

  6. After his Flanders win BMC’s decision to make Gilbert sit out the cobbled classics looked pretty stupid. After this it looks like possibly the worst piece of cycling team management in recorded history. It’s a good job they went bust, or they’d have red faces. Granted Gilbert has probably grown into a Roubaix contender as he’s become more diesel over the years, but even so. Brave decision to say he’ll never win Sanremo, though it’s likely true. If he ever rides it again not in Alaphilippe’s service and he’s in the bunch with a K to go… I’d imagine he’ll jump. Really he needs to leave Quick Step. They were the best team for him to add the cobbled classics but he’ll never lead for them at Sanremo. He needs to sign for a pro conti team!

    • I’d say Gilbert should stay where he is and see what happens with guys like Alaphilippe and Viviani – they could be the ones leaving and Gilbert could complete his monument challenge using the team’s usual “Bike Race 101” skills and tactics. Before this afternoon plenty of “experts” seemed to think he’d never win Paris-Roubaix. Going off to a 2nd rate team where you can be the big protected star isn’t much good when your protectors are 2nd rate.

      • Well if it’s a choice between second choice helpers or being a helper he might take his chances with the former Larold. You never know.

        • But hasn’t Gilbert just made a big statement as to why he’s not just a second fiddle?! I know it doesn’t make the case for him at MSR, but it certainly adds weight to any argument he may have for a protective status.
          Besides I think DQS have a two leader system where they look to get at least one protected rider in the break while shepherding a second in the main chase group. Gilbert just had to be one of those named individuals in a race. This tactic has worked wonders for them in the last two seasons. Before that they had complete shockers. The 2015 Omloop being the biggest one of the lot.

    • I’m nearly always happy to agree when someone criticizes Team BMC’s management :), but the Phillipe Gilbert@BMC was a very different rider to the one he is now. And it’s not because he became older, but because he wanted to morph into more of a rouleur rather than the puncheur he was in the most successful years of his career around 2011. The PG of old would have never attacked in the Ronde with fiftysomething to go.
      This guy could long have stopped cycling if he was only doing it for the money. He’s really driven by that dream he has of winning all five monuments and enjoying his life while he chases this dream. And that has kept him working hard on his transformation.
      He knew – and that was reportedly the main reason to actively ask Lefèvre at the end of 2016 if he could join his team – that he needs a strong team which value classic wins above anything else if he wanted to pursue that dream.
      In contrast to INRNG who did not even have him in his list of favourites for P-R I would absolutely not rule him out of winning the lottery that M-SR has become. First because he’s Philippe Gilbert, second because he’s with DQS now, and they have proven what the term team spirit means to them, and finally because of the guy who won M-SR in 2018. Compared to Nibali’s chances to win M-SR those of Gilbert are much higher. But still Nibali won.

      • It’s still a slim chance for Sanremo on a team with Viviani, Alaphilippe etc. Worth noting that Gilbert was instrumental in Alaphilippe’s win in Sanremo, he worked hard on the Poggio to set things up.

        • If you’ve got the enemy in your own team, forget about it. But if you manage to unite the strongest squad aiming for it he has a real chance, I suppose.
          I also remember reading a quote of Gilbert dating back to 2017 or 2018 about his chances of winning M-SR: “It cannot be that hard to win. Merckx won it seven times.”
          That made me smile at the time and it still does.
          I suppose he will concentrate his training in the next winter on whatever it takes to increase his chances of winning M-SR. Be it doing a Nibali or a Cancellara. We’ll see.

        • Lefevere has his work cut out the coming weeks. For 2020, DQT squad has 7 riders in total contracted, Jungels-Lampaert-Jakobsen-Hodeg-Asgreen-Evenepoel-Honore.

          • His work is cut out as in finding the money to pay all those who want to win the spring classics with DQT. I think Terpstra and Trentin would go back in a heartbeat, the same way that Gilbert did.

      • The Gilbert “of old” wouldn’t have attacked from far? Perhaps a look should be given to the very first big victories in his career (on the cobbles, by the way).
        And, even in the period STS referes to, although he wasn’t alone when he won Liège, yet he went from far with the Schlecks, it wasn’t the Valverde or Daniel Martin sort of Liège win.

        • You’re right. The Gilbert of “very old” 😉 won races with long range solo attacks. But that was before he appeared on everyone’s radar as a prolific winner of one day races. After training for and then becoming a puncheur style he probably didn’t have to do it anymore since he could afford to arrive at finishes with small groups which rarely contained anyone who could keep up with him in the dash to the line.
          That edition of LBL when he was alone with the Schlecks in the finale was almost comical to watch as the outcome was evident barring a mechanical or a crash for Gilbert.

    • I must say I directly had the same thought on Gilbert BMC years.
      BMC did not allow Gilbert to ride to cobbled in the last years (GvA was the leader), and he had to focus on the week of the Ardennes. Besides the choice of one leader appears to be poor (Gilbert won 2 cobbled monuments in the last 3 years while GvA 1, Gilbert before his BMC period had podiummed the ROnde and won 2 Omloop), the focus on one classic week is something that has never suited Gilbert, who has long form peaks and can deal with several weeks with classics.
      Really a poor decision from BMC, I think they did not get the best of PG.

  7. News media and TV broadcasters have routinely been commenting that Sagan is “not himself” this year, and typically attribute it to an early season illness.
    But they almost never mention his recent marriage breakup, which surely imposes a terrible mental toll.
    Is there some unwritten rule or tradition that discourages the media from commenting on this?

    • Unless you’re talking about some hack psychologists who also happen to be cycling TV commenters why would they mention this? Can we leave the man’s personal life…to him?

      • If we’re leaving his personal life to him then we leave his sickness to him too, right? And we can’t talk about anything at all to do with cyclists or cycling that isn’t strictly to do with the races on the road, right? Are you going to follow your own rule here, Larry? Or is that just a rule that other people should follow?

        • Injuries and sickness are facts, and they are PUBLISHED by team and doctors. Personal life issues are just gossip for trolls and “facts” only for yellow press and kitchen table psychologists. Maybe Kristoff’s cat died Wednesday and caused his 56th place, anyone?

    • But who knows? It might have imposed a toll, then again he might have been unhappy in the marriage? Cycling tends to be a sport where the races are poured over, but unlike other sports, the private life is usually left private.

    • Guys… My old teammates knew I raced way better after a breakup… We really have zero clue how this is affecting him so should focus on things that would affect the worlds best. Not things that we feel may potentially… Newscasters aren’t sport psychologists with the rare exception.

      • My guess is that Sagan is all in for the new finish in Liege. In hindsight, we could be marvelling at a Sagan riding himself into form but being at the business end of the toughest races of the year.

        Van Avermaet must be unhappy with his spring output. He looked strong at the Ronde and yesterday but missed the key moves and didn’t have a team to help when it mattered.

        • Why can’t people just accept that Sagan bonked? People are always making excuses for him, like he’s building for a different race or he was ill a couple of months ago. He was going fine, probably looked the favourite and then suddenly had nothing at all. He didn’t eat enough, maybe didn’t drink enough, and cracked. End of.

          • I don’t see it as people (many, not all) making excuses for him as much as looking for explanations. Fact: he’s a prolific winner. Fact: he’s demonstrated he can handle the distance for monuments. Fact: he normally makes it into the finale of long, hard races [and gets his cake eaten from him more often than not in the sprint].

            Something seems off. IIRC his preparation is a little bit different this year (Sierra Nevada?) but I may be confused. Maybe a spring altitude camp is not optimal for him.

            Couple that with getting sick or whatever and that explains the lack of form. Other seasons you’d see him working too hard, forcing things at the wrong time or making mental mistakes. This time it seems it’s the legs. Guy’s not even 30, too early to call him done.

          • Count me among those tens of thousands who don’t see people refusing to accept or not seeing that Sagan bonked:-) I see people seeking an explanation for or speculating on possible causes of his relatively spectacularly weak spring campaign.
            But what I really want to point out is that it is a rather simplistic explanation that you bonk because you somehow failed to eat and drink enough and in time. You can bonk for a variety of reasons, ranging from going out too hard for too long via having to go into your red zone at an inopportune stage (or too many times in succession, depending on which has the most negative effect on your body’s ability to digest and to absorb energy) to just having a bad day or your body already fighting against the onset of an illness.
            And when you try to maximise your glycogen stores by carboloading before the race, you always take the risk of a huge failure, no matter how many times you’ve succesfully done it before or how religiously you follow the tested procedure. (This would be my guess in Sagan’s cae, if I had to hazard a guess…)

          • I don’t understand the fuzz around Sagan shape. This year, for different reasons, he is not as super as other years. This kind of things used to happen to huge champions as Boonen too.
            Next, I think many riders would like to be in this kind of poor shape, making the cut in Paris Roubaix. Ask GvA…
            And to conclude, I have the feeling that his form is growing, that his peak is somehow delayed. Maybe on purpose, maybe due to illness, difficult to say, but he looks stronger from week to week. I won’t be too surprised to see him booking good results in the coming weeks.

            Another hint: I don’t know if Gilbert will do the coming classics (I guess he will), but this guy has long form peaks and has proved able to combine kassei en klim klassiekers. Plus the new finale of LBL is probably better suited to him, and knowing DQS tactics, it won’t be necessarily all in for Alaphilippe.

          • Irungo, my memory is far from perfect and I don’t have any recollection of how it was before the internet was invented and before everybody was busy on social media. but I think there was the same level, intensity and amount of fuzz about Boonen’s poor showing and results and about those of huge champions before him.
            If there wasn’t, it was not because cycling fans didn’t speculate, discuss and argue about them – and it’s just that the volume is amplified by today’s technology.
            PS Do the “chops” in your nick refer to your legs – as I believe one might refer to them in English – or to something you have on your plate in the dining room (if you have a chance to enjoy Basque kitchen and you aren’t vegetarian=?

      • My english is too poor to refer to my legs using the word “chops”, I am afraid.
        In turns, I can tell you I find Basque meat outstanding. Only it seems to be hazardous to have it riding the Tour…

        RE Sagan, we know he is having another kind of prep this year with different targets. We will see what the final outcome is. It is difficult to believe that in races that are so hard, you can be outstanding without optimal conditions. All details count.

  8. Nice writeup!
    Question: What do you think the deal was with Lampaert trying to bridge knowing that Vanmaerke was coming along? Was the thinking that two DQS riders were a greater advantage in a small group of 3 than seeing if Gilbert could go the distance? Or was it that both wanted to win and Lampaert was not letting Gilbert get away? That seems counter to DQS philosophy, no?

    • Judging by the podium pic, Lampaert looks like a bulldog chewing a wasp. Towing Vanmarcke back like that was pretty unprofessional in my book.

      • They were probably more scared of Sagan than of Vanmarcke and wanted to have another option with Lampaert possibly going long and saving Gilbert for the sprint. Lampaert was probably also confident he would be able to drop both Van Aert and Vanmarcke. I don’t think it was unprofessional at all, rather a smart tactical move and it turned out perfectly for them, although I don’t believe they thought Sagan would run out of gas big time at the end.

        • +1 Whether fully intended or not (Lampaert may have just wanted the win), his presence seemed to help Gilbert in the final 20km or so – sitting on Sagan’s wheel when Gilbert went and then forcing Pollitt to ride at the front in the final. The “Wolfpack” approach needs multiple potential DQS winners in the final to make life difficult for the opposition, right? Bridging over with Vanmarcke seemed risky but gave the team an edge when Sagan was still looking strong.

      • There’s a whole gallery of images on the Getty archive and Lampaert’s face is something. In another image he’s staring jealously at the prize cobble that Gilbert collects. It’s not unusual or wrong though, Lampaert dreams of winning in Roubaix more than Flanders and he came so close today.

        • This year Lampaert had acknowledged even before P-R as best spring results ever. Multiple top 10 and podium at monument.
          ’17 & ’18 only won DDV while out of top 10 in all other races.

          2019 OHN 7, KBK 5, Strade 11, E3 18, GWE 77, DDV 8, RVV 17, PR 3

          2018 OHN 36 KBK 12, Nok 66, E3 17, GWE 20, DDV 1, RVV 29, PR 28.

          2017 OHN 97, KBK 83, HandZ 53, DDV 1, GWE 49, RVV 36, PR 82

          • I don’t doubt for a moment that his joy wasn’t genuine or that he merely played the part of a good team player – but the thought of how close to victory he was and of what could have been must’ve inavoidably seeked its teeth into his flesh soon afterwards.
            You don’t have to be a sore loser just because you feel p-ed off about not winning the race:)

    • I think there was a rivalry, if only because both knew they had a huge chance today once the selection had been reduced to six riders. But imagine if Lampaert had come back, perhaps Gilbert would still have won the sprint?

    • I suppose once that Lampaert saw that Vanmarcke was unable to close the gap while he still felt good, he (or someone in the car @ DQT) thought that it would make more sense to have him in the front group. Don’t forget Sagan who must be considered the fastest finisseur was still in that group with Gilbert. And no one could have known at that point that Sagan had just spent his last portion of glycogen in his liver.
      I saw it as a somewhat risky but brave decision. Vanmarcke could have played mind games at that point but he is not known so far for being a good gambler, something that Lampaert or the man in his ear surely knows.

      • Many of these remarks make sense–Sean Kelly sure thought Lampaert wanted a chance at the win. I just wonder what Gilbert thought of it–toward the end I’m sure he was glad that Lampaert seemed to be coming back, given that it let him sit on Politt’s wheel.

        Incredibly enjoyable race to watch–worth a 5 am wake up.

        • It was Lampaert’s body language that gave him away. He was cajoling Vanmarcke in particular to close the gap and was constantly glancing up the road.

        • Agreed. I for one would have liked to have seen what would have happened if politt had started to track stand in the velodrome. I think he would have forced Gilbert to lead out in fear of lampert snatching the win. That may have given politt the edge in the sprint but admittedly you have to be a cool customer to pull that stunt. Maybe the inexperience of politt? ‘before you can win you must first be willing to lose…’

          • Cosmo Catalano had a similar take but with different conclusion – you get 2-up to Roubaix and have to sprint one in a team, guaranteed 2nd. place, take your chances. You get to fight teammates then one of them attacks and then whether you chase or not you’re now fighting not to be third.

            And probably Gilbert smokes them both 5 times out of ten velodrome sprints.

  9. Great write up. I watched several hours of the race today thanks to pirate web in the USA. Really enjoyed it though was disappointed to see Sagan miss the final selection. Those who rode today rode their hearts out and to them a deserved toast!

    • Truly a stunning race especially given the winner. Hey, what’s happened to all our pirate feeds, the regional blocks are killing everything this year!!! Bring back our betting site feeds!

  10. I noticed the Sid Vicious image on IR’s Twitter feed.
    Was this a link to the aggressive / contemptuous sneer that often adorns Philippe Gilbert’s face when he’s riding?
    And, on the subject of cyclo-pop art, I’ve long been an admirer of Gustav Metzger’s school of ‘Auto-destructive’ art. It is my deep wish to see a Gilbert or a Sagan demonstrate its virtues on a Monument-winning machine. It has to be such a genius who can only do this, else it would be mere vandalism.
    I thought Gilbert was going to actually do it, when he lofted his Tarmac into the air after his Flanders victory.
    A full-on smash up is not wholly necessary; witness Townsend’s dance with the devil at the climax of The Who’s 1969 Woodstock performance. One of the coolest acts in mankind’s history!

  11. With this win Gilbert now has to be considered the finest classics rider of his generation, eclipsing the exploits of Boonen and Cancellara (with the latter two now only making the cobbled classics/MSR sub-list). With climbers looking more and more like children a dual Roubaix/Lombardia winner will become an even rarer beast. If my memory serves me right King Kelly was the last one before Gilbert won yesterday.

    • It will be interesting to see if DQS support PG’s MSR bid next year. Will he train to peak at MSR, will the pack work to set him up, can he win MSR? Sure be nice to see him do it.

  12. Totally agree with IR’s assessment of this edition as one of the best of recent years. From the final lead group I would have been happy if any of the riders had claimed the cobble. However, I have held back my decision on Wout van Aert’s road ability until today. Yikes, that was a ride. Two crashes, numerous chases, mechanical hiccups and a rare lack of team support, should have written off his challenge completely, and yet, it was only the final acceleration of Politt, followed by Gilbert, from the main lead group that finally distanced van Aert from top honours. His cross pedigree being beyond question, I am now a fan of this young man on the roads.

  13. Not a typo as such but (I think) a case of not using the correct word.
    “Gilbert who risked seeing the win …”
    This should be “Gilbert who risked ceding the win”

    • It’s naughty if the race isn’t 100%, but yesterday they were racing hard, there was a group up the road, another behind chasing etc so it worked, apparently Politt and Gilbert both spotted they wanted to move up the road so they went together.

      • I guess as an unwritten rule you can use the ambiguity to your advantage when needed. And this time, based on your description, the attacked appeared valid.

        Great tactical move it is then.

  14. I’m slightly ambivalent about the result. Attacking in the feed zone seems an underhand way to get an advantage, no doubt a playbook shared by Wilfred Peeters and Dirk Demol. An unwritten rule broken, to cause panic and ensure the chasers eventually run out of gas – and it worked.

    Not exactly cheating but for me the tactics leave something to be desired!

  15. I think people may be looking for controversy where none exists. Looking at the footage of Lampaerts congratulating Gilbert at the finish, he looks quite genuinely happy for him.

  16. I would be so grateful to see a piece on whether Gilbert can win MSR

    My head says absolutely not

    Especially with Alaphillippe and Viviani in the team…

    But it feels like the ultimate jailbreak/bank robbery plan trying to come up with a way Gilbert can win…

    If all the team bar those two worked for him and he found a willing ally in maybe Nibali? (I heard he tried to go early once with Sagan?) and maybe a route change… (is that on the horizon?)…. and probs snow or rain or something! Is there any possible way he can win?

  17. Much respect to Gilbert on a great win, however I see his bid to win MSR as a difficult one. The reason he is winning the Ronde and Paris Roubaix now are in a large part due to the strength of his team and their tactics of deploying multiple winning options in the latter stages of a race. It’s anathema to their style to go “all in” for Gilbert at MSR in the future.

    In other words, the wolfpack style of racing certainly produces lots of wins for the team, but picking the winner from the multiples DQS riders with a chance is a bit of a lottery.

    Additionally with Alaphilippe proving himself this year and their sprinters, surely DQS have options better suited to MSR than a long-range Gilbert attack. I don’t see him getting over the Poggio by himself nor do I see him taking a bunch sprint away from the stronger sprinters.

    Just my two cents, but I think Gilbert will be stuck with the 4 monuments. Kudos to him though.

  18. A little detail about García Cortina: he didn’t exactly fade, he punctured in a key moment, some 500m shy of the end of the pavé sector preceding Mons-en-Pevele. He previously had had several mechanicals in the first part of the race but this was end game. The sort of bad luck which is absolutely part of the Roubaix game, yet worth underlying that his case was different from the two Frenchmen’s.

    Re: Gilbert & Sanremo. Pretty hard, bordering impossible, of course – just as I’d have thought about Roubaix. Yet, stars aligned (that is, most stars were a little blurred each for his own reasons), he worked hard, rode magnificently, and here we are. Bartoli understood that the Roubaix might be suited to him when he rode it for the first time during the last season of his career. Lots of things are being given for granted when they are just self-fulfilling prophecies.
    Sanremo is elusive for everybody, but I think that Gilbert could have some factors on his side: he’s going to be able to focus on that race until he retires, again and again, without major worries about hitting form too soon (that’s the main element, among many others, of course, which kept Boonen from winning it). He can attack from “far” (Cipressa or any other little climb RCS might decide to include) and thus shape a different race, especially if some other strong rider joins him (all alone it wouldn’t work unless he suddenly went Colombo – well, Quickstep and others have been Gewissing in recent years, so why not? 😛 ). Anyway, Sanremo has been looking opener than in previous years, which might call for a (slightly) different set of riders taking part with a (slightly) different attitude. OTOH, he’s gone diesel, of course, but fast twitches stay there until the very end, albeit they always become a bit “slower”, so to say. But, after all, he was a crucial part of the rocket launch for Alaphilippe on the Poggio, which means he’s got the afterburners for such an acceleration. And, unlike Nibali or Cancellara, he doesn’t really need to drop *everybody* else.

    Now, Gilbert is already one of the strongest one-day racer ever. Far from the very best, the top 4 or so (Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Kelly, Van Looy are on a different level), but – surely enough – well within the top-ten. And with *ever* I mean *ever. Besides the Monuments, he’s got an impressive collection of classics of any kind; nowadays, with all the Monuments talk, we may tend to look down on those, but scrolling through Gilbert’s palmarés is really impressive. Very few if any can compare with him from that POV. As somebody noted above, the likes of Boonen and Cancellara are surely among the strongest pavé specialist ever, with Boonen being arguably the strongest one (De Vlaeminck would probably kill me) – yet, they can’t be considered as historically exceptional classics racers in a more general sense. Gilbert can.

    • Very much agree with it is said above.
      On the place that can be granted to gilbert in classics’ history and on his chance to get msr.

    • If there was a cyclist who could win Paris-Roubaix despite the fact that ist doesn’t really suit him or at least is quite far from favouring his (physiological) strengths, it was Philippe Gilbert. He had the enormous experience in all sorts of one-day races and in racing (and winning) them with a variety of different tactics. He knew and understand that his only chance of winning was being active and decisive at the right moment even if it meant taking what at the time may seem a big risk or even a calculably poor choice. He had the heart and the courage to make that choice and, of course, the engine to do what was required of it.

      I won’t hesitate to proudly and joyously say that I had given him three and a half stars – and only one of those was for sentimental reasons – out of five possible!

      Milano – Sanremo, on the other hand, is a wholly different matter unless things play exactly into his hands. Or unless, as you suggested, the course is – as tradition demands – slightly redrawn and it again becomes slightly less impossible for the moment the race was won to occur further out from the finish line.

      Things that puzzled me: GvA apperently so obviously overdressed for the entire race (but he surely cannot be as silly and stupid as a Sunday cyclist?) and Kristoff choosing on 25 mm tubeless tires (but his team should surely have been able to convince him that it wasn’t as good an idea as he believed it was?).

      Things that left me wishing they hadn’t been there: Boasson Hagen suffering two punctures (and one or two more but they no longer mattered that much) early in the race now that he once again seemed strong enough to be present when the selection is made.

      • I was just as puzzled about Kristoff using these tires, I wonder if there was some serious sponsor/supplier/team pressure? I read somewhere claims they’d passed their cobbled tests with flying colors, but then they went on to say how you don’t hit the holes in testing that you hit in the race. WTF? Do they not understand what a TEST is? If I was testing something like this I would have been running into and over anything and anything to see if the tires/wheels could take it rather than waiting until the race to find out. C’mon, Michelin certainly did tons of pre-event testing before Frederic Guesdon won on their clinchers in 1997.
        The other puzzling thing to me was the number of drivetrain issues, most of ’em seemingly involving the Big-S’ Di2 equipment, as it’s almost ubiquitous these days. While P-R is notoriously tough on drivetrains, at the same time Di2 is lauded as almost perfect in comparison to rivals. When some opt instead for mechanical systems I’m puzzled as to whether these failures were more or less the usual or happened with greater frequency to the electronic systems?

      • The flat thins has me really confused I can’t see how you pinch flat tubeless tyres. They should be much harder to flat than tubulars if they are the correct type and contain enough sealant. 25mm even if they inflate to 26mm as the article before the race does suggest itself to being a little inadequate. It would be good to see if we could have a failure analysis as I think It would be helpful.

        As to the Di2 thing it possible a little more homework is needed but that was the same with carbon wheels and they all ride them now. So I would expect improvements to come as its likely shimano will work out what went wrong.

        MSR – Anything can happen but less likely for Phil as that race is not nearly as hard despite its reputation. There is almost always a large pack of team domestiques to chase a break away so it will always basically come down to a sprint up and down the final hill. Can he do it, I suppose but less likely now than 5 years ago by far.

        • Has anyone claimed Kristoff’s tires were “pinch” flats? That would be news to me. Same with carbon wheels, I don’t remember a lot of failures at the start of their use at P-R, so what the Big-S might do to avoid future failures of Di2 remain a mystery. Despite plenty of chain-watchers being installed, there were many issues of chains coming off in addition to the failures in the rear leaving the rider in the 11 tooth cog.

          • Kristoff did say that that what made the difference between the pre-race ride and the race was that during the race he couldn’t see the surface of the road and take a safer line.
            Besides, the beauty of tubeless is that you don’t even notice some of the usual punctures that would normally result in a tire change because the sealant works so rapidly that you don’t lose too much presssure.
            I would hazard the guess that when you hit a sharp edge at 50 km/h, you will lose so much pressure that it is no consolation that the sealant works because you have to stop anyway ant even using a CO2 cartridge, let alone a minipump to top up is not really an option during the race like it is for us Sunday cyclists:-)

            As for Di2: I have never had my humble Ultegra malfunction, not even on the worst and bumpiest “roads” I’ve ridden. But, again, I doubt if I reach the speeds pros have even when I go down a hill (because I don’t rally have the balls to go that fast) and therefore I don’t subject my gear to the same stresses and cause the “brain” of the system to think it needs to shut down for self-protection…

  19. Old school Phil, none of this scientific data mumbo jumbo so favoured by much lesser beings looking for a reason why they can’t figure a win. Feel and nous a plenty, well done Phil.

  20. Brilliant stuff.
    Gilbert has really shown how ridiculous – as many said at the time – it was that BMC wouldn’t put GVA and PG in the same race. Can you imagine DQS not fielding both riders in the big races?

  21. The early years of PGs career were when his legs suited classic MSR winning tactics most, perhaps he missed the boat during the final years of two speed cycling, pre-passport. I’d love to see him make it though, it’s high time that a long range break went in MSR while the other teams try to keep their numbers for the finale. Race tactics run in cycles, the more the race goes early the more effective it is to hold back, and contrastingly the more the race gets focussed on the Poggio and via Roma, the more effective a Capi or Cipressa move would be… it will be exciting to watch to find out anyway.

  22. Gilbert’s biggest problem is that he will be a marked man and to my mind that counts more for MSR than for others (Roubaix for example). Nibali probably made it harder for Gilbert because the Poggio attack is expected and planned for (and a Cipressa attempt by the same logic), but I still think that Gilbert is one of the few classy riders who could win despite being marked. I’d love to see it even though my head says it’s unlikely.

    • That is the beauty of the tactical game…

      Yes they’ll be marking an expected Gilbert attack… But they’ll be towing the reigning champ back up to him too. So, as we’ve seen now so many times, who will ride?

      Declercq and Lampaert dull the legs…
      Stybar attacks first… Who works? But they bring him back…
      Gilbert attacks second… Now who works?
      Alaphillipe sat smiling at them in the wheels…

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