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Greg Van Avermaet takes 2017 Paris-Roubaix in sprint

James Spender
9 Apr 2017

BMC rider showed true grit to win fastest ever Paris-Roubaix

It was a hot, nervous Paris-Roubaix, which felt more like a war of attrition against Lady Luck and the unseasonable heat than it did a battle against the cobbles.

World Champ Peter Sagan again fell foul of cruel fate with two mechanicals, and along with Tom Boonen just couldn’t deal with a pace that saw riders average over 50kmh for the first two hours, the pair finally succumbing to reality some 20km out.

But the ride of the day belonged to Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), whose beat off errant plastic bollards, a pile up, a bike change and a last minute heart-in-mouth sprint to triumph in the Roubaix velodrome ahead of Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step) and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale Drapac).

The fastest Paris-Roubaix in history - 45kmh - won't be a day Van Avermaet will ever forget.

The 2017 Paris-Roubaix podium. Photo: ASO 

The 2017 Paris-Roubaix: How it went down

Riders rolled out of an already warm Compiegne at 10.17am, looking towards another dry Roubaix, the 11th in a row. Temperatures look set to hit the early 20s and it’s all quiet for the first few kilometres, the only action a tentative 10 man break for the cameras manages to stretch gap to 10s before being reeled in.

The pace is relentless, and in the first hour the riders average 50.9kmh, so it’s no wonder it takes until 200km to go for the first break to stick, Katusha riders Michael Morkov and Mads Schmidt opening up a 22s gap as part of a five man break.

With 163km to go the five man break is three, but has manages to open up a 40s gap courtesy of Yannick Martinez (Delko Marseilles), Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) and Mikael Delage (FDJ).

By the time the first sector, the 2.2km from Troisvilles to Inchy, approaches the gap is up to 47s.

The chasing peloton is as it should be, Sky and Quick-Step setting the tempo with Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe chipping along at ridiculous speeds with Boonen et al.

By the second sector the gap is up to 1m5s as the riders approach the 800m Viesly-Quievy stretch of cobbles.

Everything is as it should be until a rider clips the verge, causing a huge crash at the front of the pack, involving the young Team Sky Pole Lukas Wisnioski and Oliver Naesen.

Meanwhile, Martinez gets dropped by Wallays and Delage, who take a 55s lead into the third sector, with the chasing pack led by Andre Griepel.

With a knowing nod to each other, Wallays and Delage seem to admit defeat, the peloton having taken advantage of a 9km stretch of tarmac to regroup and reel in, but just as Stannard is experiencing his second bout of bad luck after the pile – puncturing then have to ride a sector on a flat tyre – the two man break is joined by the big Belgian Vanderburgh from AG2R La Mondiale, who helps drive the pace, and the gap, up to 23s, showing the others how it’s done.

Tony Martin is having another one of his motorbike days, riding hard on the front of the pack, stretching the opposition along with John Degenkolb and Sagan, who’s been mixing it at the front in his world champ stripes.

It’s too much for Greg van Avarmaet and his BMC riders to bear, who decide to take control of the peloton, around the same time as last year’s winner, Mat Hayman, punctures.

It’s not all plain sailing though: an impromptu bottleneck in the road caused by poorly positioned plastic bollards nearly takes out the BMC riders.

Van Avarmaet thought his luck must be in until he’s involved in a second pile up, resulting in a bike change for the Belgian, who looks distraught.

From the head of the pack he finds himself 50s off the back. A cruel blow.

Often the Arenberg is the sector that ‘chooses’ the main contenders, but on a dry day the 2.4km is dispatched with relative ease, the only victim is Delage, who is consumed by a peloton led by Matteo Trentin of Quick-Step with a well-poised Sagan on his wheel.

Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) manages to pick up where Delage left off, and after Wallays overshoots a corner, Chavanel finds himself leading with Vanderburgh, 28s ahead and 45s beyond Van Avarmaet, who is putting in a hell of a shift to get himself back in.

News has long since come in that Nicki Terpstra, the 2015 winner, has abandoned, and Lars Boom also looks like his day might be a washout, as he’s distanced from the chasing group after a mechanical, but meanwhile at the front Wallays and Chavanel have been snaffled up and Sagan, clearly sensing (or was that a radio message?) weakness in Van Avarmaet and Boonen decides to attack, going clear with Bora teammate Bodnar, before being joined by Jasper Stuyven and Italian Daniel Oss (BMC).

Sadly for Sagan an apparent mechanical slows him up and he and Bodnar are reabsorbed as Oss and Stuyven make good on their gap to 30s.

Then boom! Boonen launches and it looks like it’s on, but the excitement soon ebbs as it becomes apparent he’s just turning the screws, wanting to separate the wheat from the chaff in search of his fifth Paris-Roubaix win.

With a little over 30km left it’s still anyone race, but pace and dry weather is taking its toll and riders are looking tired.

It’s also taken it’s toll on Sagan’s bike, as he punctures and is dropped, appalling luck not for the first time in his Classics campaign.

To make matters worse the wheel change is painfully slow. Oss heads up the race 21s ahead, and in pursuit is Stybar, Langeveld and Roelandts. Hopefully Oss won’t live to regret his ponytail a la Laurent Fignon.

All this time Van Avarmaet has been putting in the shift of life and has joined the main chasing group, led by Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step) and involving Sky’s under 23 Italian rider Gianni Moscon.

Oss still has the front row seat but has loses 16s over the 22nd sector of the day. With 24.5km to go Oss is finally swallowed up by Van Avarmaet’s group.

Boonen is chasing hard 34s back, along with Hayman and Sagan, who has recovered after his slow wheel change. It’ not over by any stretch but they need to push harder.

Andre Griepel pops up and is still in the mix. Stybar has some thinking to do, take charge himself and risk distancing teammate Boonen further, or slow to help the retiring Belgian.

Equally, should Boonen risk chasing his own teammate down? Can he get away with just a few riders?

The Carrefour de l’Arbe’s jagged teeth makes itself known, with Stybar still looking strong, as is Moscon. Boonen chases with Bernie Eisel, with 30s the gap, but Van Avarmaet and company are pushing on too. Sagan is looking cooked, travelling backwards at 53s down.

But by 6km out Moscon is off, Boonen is running on fumes and it’s only Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac), Stybar and Van Avarmaet who look likely to triumph. Could Stybar be the Czech Republic’s first ever Roubaix winner?

Van Avarmaet and Stybar aren’t relenting, exchanging what looks like a few choice words, and it’s Langeveld who’s been quietly benefitting as the other two duke it out into the velodrome, where there can only be one winner as the bell is rung.

The trio lap like seasoned track riders, all but trackstanding, then bang! From nowehere Mosocn joins the sprint with Trek-Segafredo's Jasper Stuyven, forcing the sprint and forcing Stybar to go off the front.

But finally a well-placed Avermaet is able to kick and take Stybar metres from the line.