Phenomenal Philippe Gilbert wins Paris-Roubaix
Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert outsprinted Germany’s Nils Politt to win his first Paris-Roubaix on Sunday and edge closer to his ambition of winning all five of cycling’s Monuments. The veteran Deceuninck-QuickStep rider used his experience and superior kick to zip past his Katusha-Alpecin rival in the Roubaix velodrome at the conclusion of 257-kilometre race over the cobbles of northern France.
Gilbert’s Deceuninck-QuickStep team delivered a masterclass as Belgian national champion Yves Lampaert secured the final spot the podium as both Florian Senechal and Zdenek Stybar came home in a chasing group in the top seven.
Defending champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) had to settle for fourth place after fading in the final 20km of a tense 117th edition of the Queen of the Classics.
Gilbert, Politt, Lampaert and Sagan were part of a select six-man group that entered the business end of the race with an advantage of one-minute over the chasing pack.
Gilbert split the leading group in two with a large dig on the infamous five-star Carrefour de l’Arbre section of cobblestones inside the final 16km.
Both Sagan and Politt held the Belgian veteran’s wheel before Vanmarcke and Lampaert closed the gap after Van Aert dropped back, feeling the toll following an earlier crash in the race.
It was the impressive Politt – already heavily present in the day’s main break – who put in the next big attack with 14km remaining, with only Gilbert able to follow.
Mechanical issues ended Vanmarcke’s chances while an exhausted Sagan was soon pedalling squares, leaving Lampaert as the only rider capable of returning to the fold.
But with team-mate Gilbert up the road, Lampaert settled for third place – raising his arms aloft as he came home 13 seconds down on the day’s winner before celebrating wildly with his compatriot in the centre of the velodrome.
It was Gilbert’s fifth victory in cycling’s Monuments after his previous triumphs in Il Lombardia (2009, 2010), Liege-Bastogne-Liege (2011) and the Ronde van Vlaanderen (2017). The 36-year-old now just needs a win in Milano-Sanremo to secure an historic clean sweep of the sport’s biggest one-day races.
Sagan crossed the line for fourth place 42 seconds down and just ahead of a chasing group which was brought home by Frenchman Senechal. The utterly dominant Deceuninck-QuickStep team placed a fourth rider in the top seven in Zdenek Stybar in what was a good day in the office for team manager Patrick Lefevere.
Pre-race favourites Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Oliver Naisen (Ag2R-La Mondiale) came home in the chase group but just outside the top 10 after another fierce battle over 29 sectors and 54.4km of cobblestones.
Chilly temperatures and a strong headwind made it hard going for the start of the Hell of the North with no break managing to stick for the best part of two hours despite regular moves zipping off the front to little avail.
With the first hour raced at an average speed of 45.5km/h, the Dane Magnus Cort was particularly active for Astana following an earlier solo break from his Kazakhstan team-mate Dimiriy Gruzdev.
Experienced Italian Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates) was joined by former Roubaix Juniors winner, the Dane Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafredo). But the duo’s lead never stretched above 30 seconds before the race came back together with 200km remaining.
A trio comprising two more Danes in Casper Pedersen (Team Sunweb) and another junior winner, Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin), as well as the experienced Belgian Jurgen Roelandts (Movistar) established a lead of 40 seconds after 60km.
Once again, this move was thwarted. Trek’s Pedersen tried his luck on at least two more occasions before, finally, a move of nine riders opened up a significant gap after around 80km of tense riding.
Among the leaders were the Belgium’s Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Frenchman Damien Gaudin (Total-Direct Energie), who finished fifth in 2013.
The break had around 10 seconds to play with over a large chasing group that included Belgian champion Lampaert, the rangy German Politt and Italy’s Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) as the riders hit the first of 29 cobbled sections at Troisvilles with the peloton a further 30 seconds back.
Team Sky, Lotto Soudal and Bora-Hansgrohe set the tempo on the front of the pack as the race entered its cobbled phase having missed the earlier moves which formed in blustery winds after a cagey opening.
Soon, the two moves had merged to form a group of 23 riders with a gap of 50 seconds as the race crossed the second cobbled sector between Briastre and Viesley, dedicated to the late Michael Goolaerts, the Belgian rider who died of a cardiac arrest during last year’s edition.
With QuickStep duo Lampaert and Declercq, European champion Trentin, French duo Gaudin and team-mate Adrien Petit, and veteran Matti Breschel (EF Education First) all involved, the strong break maintained its 50-second gap going through the first handful of cobbled sectors.
It was all over for the break with 120km remaining following the seventh section of cobbles, a short while after a touch of wheels in the pack brought down a cluster of riders including the defending champion Sagan.
Some hefty tempo from Senechal, yet another former Paris-Roubaix junior champion, split the pack and caught out some big-name riders including Sagan, the in-form Naesen and Norwegian Kristoff, who picked up yet another picture and soon disappeared from contention.
In frantic scenes ahead of the infamous five-star cobbled sector of the Arenberg Trench, Belgian Iljo Keisse (Deceuninck-QuickStep) crashed out after a collision with a signpost just before the two packs came back together.
On the infamous Arenberg Trench, the first of three five-star cobbled sections, Belgian cyclocross star Van Aert stuttered, causing Sagan to take evasive action, before joining forces with Australian Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain Merida) 45 seconds back.
The towering Belgian Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2R-La Mondiale) rode clear in the Arenberg forest to hold a slender lead exiting the 2.3km section as Van Aert continued his chase back.
Van Aert’s troubles continued when, having changed bikes, he crashed on a right bend ahead of the joint-longest section of cobbles at Hornaing. The 24-year-old got back on his bike but trailed with leaders by well over a minute and had another battle on his hands with the unpredictable cavalcade of errant team cars.
Fellow Belgian Teisj Benoot experienced these travails first hand: the Lotto Soudal rider, having joined forces with Van Aert after his own crash, was taken to hospital in tears following an alleged collision with Van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma team car.
With 65km remaining, a potentially decisive move materialised when Politt attacked in a feedzone and was joined by Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Rudiger Selig (Bora-Hansgrohe). Catching and passing lone leader Wesley Kreder (Wanty-Gobert), the trio established a 25-second gap ahead of the Orchies section of cobbles.
When Sagan accelerated and bridged over with Van Aert, Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) and Lampaert, it looked very much like the winning break had been formed, especially when the deadwood of Selig had been cast off with 52km remaining.
Behind, the likes of Van Avermaet and Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo) attempted to bridge over, but their attacks were matched by the patrolling of Stybar, who was protecting his two QuickStep team-mates up ahead.
The six-man group of Slovakian champion Sagan, German buck Politt and four Belgians in Gilbert, Lampaert, Van Aert and Vanmarcke, saw their lead extend above one minute with eight cobbled sections to go.
With just over 20km remaining the break split into two following an acceleration by Gilbert. Sagan and Politt followed the veteran’s wheel, while behind the remaining three Belgians dithered. Lampaert eventually dug in, riding clear with Vanmarcke as Van Aert, feeling the pinch after his earlier crash, appeared to fade.
Meanwhile, the main chasing pack was losing numbers with Trentin among the big-name riders to be distanced. Vandenbergh led the chase for Ag2R-La Mondiale team-mate Naesen but the gap had stretched well over a minute ahead of the final decisive five-star cobbled section of the Carrefour de l’Arbre.
Lampaert and Vanmarcke rejoined the leaders with 18km remaining but the latter, who was already riding EF Education First team-mate Sebastian Langeveld’s bike following an incident earlier in the race, saw his chances skuppered by a mechanical.
Sagan, too, faded, the defending champion looking a pale imitation of his former swashbuckling self from 12 months previously. As with last year’s finale, a clear favourite in Gilbert led an outsider in the Silvan Dillier mould into the velodrome ahead of the final showdown sprint.
Twenty-five-year-old Politt, who finished seventh in his third Roubaix last year, was forced to lead out the sprint, as Gilbert came past on the inside on the final bend to take an impressive yet inevitable win – the 700th victory in his team's history and 23rd of a yet another stellar season.
With just the Milano-Sanremo trophy missing from his cabinet, expect Gilbert and his Deceuninck-QuickStep team to go all in for La Primavera next spring – provided reigning champion Julian Alaphilippe, another QuickStep rider, gives his ascent.
Focus now shifts to the Ardennes classics in the build up to Liege-Bastogne-Liege on 28th April. With two wins from three Monuments so far this season – and that man Alaphilippe likely to feature – we can expect more of the same from the team who laid down an absolute cobbled masterclass in Sunday’s heavenly Hell of the North.