They had the numbers and the desire to make a race of it but Team Sky was unable to match an unbelievable performance from Tom Boonen (Omega-Pharma QuickStep), who soloed away from the field with over 50 kilometres to go and claimed his fourth Paris-Roubaix title on Sunday.
Until Boonen's attack Sky had ridden the textbook race: only committing to the front of the peloton in order to save themselves from crashes and mishaps, while sheltering both Edvald Boasson Hagen and Juan Antonio Flecha from the blustery conditions.
When Boonen attacked Sky was forced into a more aggressive position. With four men in the remnants of the peloton they were the strongest team present in terms of numbers. Alessandro Ballan was the only BMC rider present after Thor Hushovd had crashed, while Farnese Vini's Filippo Pozzato was similarly without support. Rabobank had two men with Lars Boom and Maarten Wynants but they refused to work, leaving Sky to attempt to hold Boonen at a respectable gap.
Boonen, however, was simply too strong. Although the time deficit held at 30 seconds for a substantial period, Sky was unable to bring the Belgian back to within striking distance. Present with Flecha and Boasson Hagen, they had Mathew Hayman and Ian Stannard rotating on the front.
It was too much for Boasson Hagen, who again flattered to deceive, while Flecha was at able to muster a counter, eventually finishing 4th on the Roubaix velodrome. Hayman trickled in almost two minutes later in 8th.
Alessandro Ballan was critical of the British team at the finish, claiming they should have committed more of their firepower instead of protecting two riders.
"It's Paris-Roubaix, it's always hard," Hayman said with a shrug at the finish.
"We had numbers, Tom was too strong. Edvald maybe wasn't as good as he thought, though. I don't know what happened to him. First of all when you have numbers it's an advantage but as soon as Tom is away like that it's a disadvantage as everyone looks to us," Hayman told Cyclingnews.
"There were four Sky guys but there were two of us really. You can't just put everyone on the front, we could have ridden it back but then Ballan would have gone. We just tried to keep it within striking distance for either Edvald or Flecha."
Hayman praised Flecha's efforts, reminding the press corp that the Spaniard had undergone an operation on his wrist five weeks ago. Having missed such a significant block of racing he returned to competition last week at the Tour of Flanders, finishing in the same time as Boasson Hagen. It was an indication that Flecha was motivated and strong enough to still warrant a leadership role.
"Hats off to Flecha," Hayman added.
"He's come back from an injury, the guy is as strong as ever and he's just an amazing rider. This is his race so another great ride from him even though he couldn't get there. This is just his 8th or 9th race this year so that just shows how class he is. We tried to get Flecha within striking distance but it sounds like Tom was too strong."