Slovakian sensation Peter Sagan put in a titanic performance to win Paris-Roubaix after a brave attack 54 kilometres from the finish of the Hell of the North.
Triple world champion Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) beat Switzerland’s Silvan Dillier (Ag2R-La Mondiale) in a two-up sprint inside the Roubaix velodrome to become the first rider since Bernard Hinault in 1981 to win the Queen of the Classics in the rainbow jersey.
One week after winning the Tour of Flanders, Dutchman Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) completed the podium with third place after attacking from an elite chasing group to finish 57 seconds in arrears.
Defending champion Greg van Avermaet (BMC) beat fellow Belgians Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac) for fourth place at 1’34”.
Sagan sprints to stunning Paris-Roubaix victory in velodrome
In sunny and warm conditions in northern France, Sagan surprised his rivals and perhaps pre-empted the inevitable Quick-Step Floors surge with a definitive attack 54km from the finish of the 257km cobbled classic.
The 28-year-old joined forces with the impressive Dillier – the last man standing from the day’s nine-man break – and the pair exited the final major cobble section of the Carrefour de l’Arbre with 15km remaining a minute to play with.
Sagan salutes the crowd by carrying bike aloft
Swiss national champion Diller, 27, led Sagan into the velodrome but the latter used his superior kick to win only his second of cycling’s Monuments – two years after his triumph in the 2016 Tour of Flanders.
On a day of drama which saw numerous crashes both on the muddle cobblestones and in the tense sections in between, Sagan emerged unscathed – avoiding calamity and punctures to become only the fifth reigning world champion to win cycling’s most famous of classics.
Sagan, who had not finished in the top five in six previous attempts in Paris-Roubaix, described his victory as “amazing” before thanking his Bora-Hansgrohe team-mates Daniel Oss, Marcus Burghardt and his brother, Juraj.
This year I wasn’t involved in any crashes and I managed to save my energy. I attacked with, what, 50 kilometres to go and kept going to the finish. I have to say that I was more tired at the finish of all my other Paris-Roubaix races than the one that I won.
How the race was won
With rain falling all week before the 116th edition of the race, many of the 29 cobblestone sections had been left muddy and wet. But sunshine and unseasonably high temperatures meant the wait for a rainy Roubaix – last seen in 2002 – would continue.
After an hour of tense racing following the start in Compegne, two riders were joined by four and then another three, all nine men coming together with 200km remaining to form what was the day’s break.
Of those nine, Swiss champion Dillier stood out – and was to prove the race’s unsung hero in the same vein that Denmark’s Mads Pedersen lit up the Tour of Flanders one week earlier en route to his own second-place finish.
A large crash in the peloton on the first cobbled sector at Troisvilles saw a whole host of riders withdraw including Welshman Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Denmark’s Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana).
Matteo Trentin falls victim to cobbles
Crashes were the order of the day with another pile-up splitting the pack with 100km remaining on the cobbles at Haveluy and forcing out Italy’s Matteo Trentin.
Meanwhile, Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Luke Rowe (Team Sky) and Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) all saw their hopes ended after hitting the deck in a high-speed incident inside the final 50km.
'Kristoff, Martin, Rowe... all on the ground!' - Peloton rocked by big crash
The lead of the nine escapees was in excess of eight minutes before the cobblestones but was whittled down to 2’30” ahead of the iconic Arenberg Trench section of cobbles with 95km remaining.
Quick-Step – the team of the spring so far – demonstrated their power in numbers after Philippe Gilbert’s attack on the Arenberg was followed up by a foray off the front by Czech champion Zdenek Stybar.
But once Stybar was reeled in by the main pack during the Orchies cobbles sector 58km from the finish, Quick-Step’s opponents came out of their stupor and started making moves of themselves.
First to try his luck was the defending champion Van Avermaet who, having being held up in that early crash in Troisville, tested his legs ahead of the business end of the race.
Sagan took his cue and rode clear with 54km left – with just Dillier, Sven Erik Bystrom (UAE Team Emirates) and Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) left up the road, with a 35 second lead.
Sagan attacks with 53km to go in Paris-Roubaix
With no one reacting to his early attack, Sagan soon caught the remaining escapees – and the advantage then crept up after the pack was disrupted by the crash that caught out Kristoff, Rowe and the lively Martin.
A select chasing group of Terpstra, Van Avermaet, Stuyven, EF-Drapac duo Vanmarcke and Taylor Phinney, and the Belgian youngster Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan) formed on the key Mons-en-Pevele cobbled section with 40km remaining.
Bystrom and Wallays were dropped as Sagan combined to stretch their lead to over a minute going through sector seven at Cysoing. And despite having ridden on the front of the race since that early break, Dillier managed to keep up with his fellow breakaway rider Sagan, the two taking it in turns to pull on the front and maintain their advantage.
Sagan fixes his own bike as he leads Paris-Roubaix charge
Once the leading duo negotiated the final five-star section of cobbles at the Carrefour de l’Arbre with 1’15” to play with, it became clear that the race would come down to a final sprint between Sagan and Dillier.
And Sagan kept to the script by surging past Dillier to take a memorable victory in Paris-Roubaix and underline his credentials as the leading rider of his generation. The two sportingly shook hands after their tussle – just as Terpstra, last week’s hero in Flanders, completed his race and the took the final spot on the podium.
Winner Slovakia's Peter Sagan (R) is congratulated by second-placed Switzerland's Silvan Dillier after the 116th edition of the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic cycling race, between Compiegne and Roubaix
Image credit: Getty Images
Sagan’s win put a smile on so many people’s faces – but the day was not without huge sadness following the tragic death of Belgian youngster Michael Goolarts.
The 23-year-old crashed in the second section of cobbles and reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest before being airlifted to hospital in Lille, where he later died according to his devastated Verandas Willems-Crelan team.