When Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) entered the Roubaix velodrome, he knew that sealing victory at Paris-Roubaix against some of the fastest men in cycling would be almost impossible. But that didn't stop him from trying and he sat firmly in John Degenkolb's (Giant-Alpecin) wheel as they rounded the final corner for the sprint.
Unfortunately, Van Avermaet found himself stuck behind Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) when Degenkolb launched his move, and he was forced to go over the top of the Czech champion. After 253 kilometres of racing, the extra metres were too much for him and he was edged out of the runner's up spot.
Considering the competition he faced, Van Avermaet is happy with his second consecutive podium finish. "It's hard to beat (Degenkolb). He made a gap and it was hard to come over. I think I did the maximum in the sprint and I can be happy," he said at the finish. "It was a maximum sprint and I was a little bit empty at the end."
Van Avermaet was in confident form at the start of the day in Compiegne, saying that he would need to be aggressive if he hoped to win. He entered the race as one of the leading contenders following his strong performance in the Tour of Flanders. He looked comfortable throughout the day, remaining near the front of the main group of favourites throughout the race. He finally made his move as the riders battled the crosswinds after the penultimate sector of cobbles, dragging Yves Lampaert with him. The pair were unable to establish a significant enough gap and Degenkolb was able to bridge over, soon followed by Stybar and several other riders.
"It was not a bad thing for me that Stybar came back," said Van Avermaet. "I wanted to get rid of Degenkolb, that was the most important thing but in the second to last sector I was really feeling empty. I wanted to push but he came closer and closer, in the end for me, I was more on survival mode trying to get to the finish. You can always hope that something happens but...
"I knew that if Degenkolb came back it would be really hard for me to go for the victory and, with the two QuickStep guys, I just had to gamble a little bit. Lampaert was really strong in the end and I know that if you go to the finish with those kinds of guys it going to be really difficult."
It wasn't smooth sailing to the finish for Van Avermaet, he lost his teammate Daniel Oss on the Auchy à Bersée sector of cobbles when the Italian crashed into a ditch. The Belgian also suffered problems with his drinks and food, as the pace of the race made it difficult to focus on anything more than sticking to the wheel of the rider in front of you.
"The bottle cages were not so good, I was losing a lot of bottles in every cobblestone section so I was always having to grab another one. I also lost a few musettes so I was asking my teammates for a lot of food," he explained. "Normally I always try to be careful with this but today it was so fast and so hard in the crosswinds it was hard to pay attention to this."
Van Avermaet has enjoyed a strong finish to his classics campaign, added to the victory he claimed at Tirreno-Adriatico and second at Strade Bianche in early March, and he leaves the cobbled races content with the start to his year. "It's been a good spring Classics, it would have been nice if it would have been a win in these races but I got a stage win in Tirreno and I did a few big results in all the classics. I think I can be happy."