After winning the first Tour de France stage of his career over the cobbles of Roubaix, John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) more than earned the title of Zwift Rider of the Day. It's the German's first WorldTour win since the 2015 season, completing his return from the horrific training crash that saw him and five teammates hospitalised in January 2016.
Degenkolb rode away along with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) on the 14th sector out of 16 at Camphin-en-Pévèle, 18km from the finish. It was an elite group with two former Paris-Roubaix winners that quickly built an insurmountable lead, with the GC-focused chase group more concerned about the riders behind than chasing down the three cobble specialists.
Despite getting to the head of the race, virtually guaranteed of a podium spot for the day, there would still be a lot of work for Degenkolb to do. Lampaert showed at February's Dwars door Vlaanderen that he can win races with late attacks, while Van Avermaet's form and sprinting ability speaks for itself.
The late attacks didn't come though, with the race instead coming down to the sprint for the line. Degenkolb was on the front of the group for the entire final kilometre – not ideal with Van Avermaet on his wheel. It was like a track race at times, with Degenkolb slowing and turning to check his break-mates over and over.
It was a patient display, with the Trek man opening the sprint himself with 200 metres to go. Neither man behind could come close to getting by, and the day belonged to Degenkolb.
And what a day it was, with riders crashing and puncturing left and right. But remarkably Degenkolb's Trek-Segafredo team managed to get through the carnage with no technical problems whatsoever, according to team technical manager Matt Shriver.
Zero flat tires today. No mechanical problems while riding through Hell. Boom!! The best material for @TrekSegafredo with @trekbikes@rideshimano and @ridebontrager. and a lot of work by mechanics! #teamwork— Matt Shriver (@TrekTeamMatt) July 15, 2018
But the main story was the German's comeback from that incident in Calpe two and a half years ago. He, along with then-teammates Frederik Ludvigsson, Chad Haga, Warren Barguil, Ramon Sinkeldam and Max Walscheid, all spent time in hospital with various injuries after an English woman driving on the wrong side of the road hit the group.
Degenkolb suffered a fractured arm, a near-severed left index finger, and required surgery on a cut to his upper leg. He eventually returned to racing in May, going on to ride the Tour de France and taking wins at the Arctic Race of Norway and Sparkassen Münsterland Giro.
But he was different when he came back. After taking 19 WorldTour wins before the accident, he had – until today – zero. Podium spots at the 2017 Tour, as well as top tens at Milan-San Remo, Flanders and Roubaix, showed the quality was still there, but he would have to wait another year to make that breakthrough. And he did that in some style too.
"I was chasing this victory for so long and it's really hard to describe," he said during an emotional post-stage interview. "This is a very big victory, and I've been through a lot of things in the past. It was such a hard time and I'm so happy to dedicate this victory to one of my best friends – he passed away last winter and this was really something for him."
"Everybody said I'm done, and that after this accident I will never come back and I said 'no I'm not done – I have to make at least one really big victory for this guy. His name is Jörg – he was my second father and it was a horrible accident. It was a huge loss and I'm so happy to get this victory now for him."
Daniel Ostanek: It was an emotional win for John Degenkolb, and there's probably nobody in the cycling world that isn't happy to see him take it after what he's been through in recent years. It's undoubtedly been a tough road back after what could've been a career-threatening incident two years ago, and what a place to announce himself – back on the cobbles that hosted his Paris-Roubaix victory in 2015.
On stage 8 you voted for LottoNL-Jumbo's Dylan Groenewegen for the second day in a row. Similarly to stage 7, the Dutchman sped to victory after a pretty quiet day of racing. He convincingly beat the top-quality sprinting field, avoiding the antics of Fernando Gaviria and André Greipel, to take the sixth WorldTour win of his career
You can vote for the stage 9's Zwift Rider of the Day below. We will announce the reader's poll winner after Tuesday's stage 10.
Most of the riders made it through the #TDF2018 cobbled stage to Roubaix, but who's your Zwift Rider of the Day? Choose from Degenkolb's emotional win, Gaudin strong in the break, Van Avermaet extending his lead, or Bardet persevering through his awful luck— Cyclingnews.com (@Cyclingnewsfeed) July 15, 2018