104th Paris-Roubaix - PT
France, April 9, 2006
Boonen finally beaten; Hincapie's hopes snap with steerer tube
An outstanding time triallist got the better of all other favourites at Paris-Roubaix today: After an attack placed at the right moment, Fabian Cancellara beat his fellow favourites in one impressive final solo effort. With 19 kilometres to go, the tall Swiss shattered the World Champion's hopes of a 'double triple', and everybody else's, too.
In a chaotic finale, three riders were disqualified for a 'race incident' - a railway crossing, which later blocked Tom Boonen et al., had already turned to red lights as the two Discovery riders Hoste and Gusev, as well as Davitamon's Van Petegem crossed it. And Discovery's George Hincapie received the worst fate of all: his steerer tube snapped with 45 kilometres to go, and the American ended up on the side of the road, unhurt but crying as he saw the lead group drive away.
"I'm so happy, I can't find the words to describe it," said Cancellara after the podium celebration, carrying the famous Paris-Roubaix cobble in his hands, and barely able to keep his eyes dry. "The last time I felt this way was when I won the Tour de France prologue, but I can't find the words. I believed in myself from the start, and I think I was probably the best rider here today. I felt that the others were in difficulty, so I waited for the right moment to attack - Gusev was in my wheel though, and I knew I had to shake him off it to get to the velodrome on my own. I want to give a big thanks to my team; it wouldn't have been possible to win without them."
Team director Scott Sunderland was also very emotional, as he told Cyclingnews. "I told him to wait a little bit longer but he wanted to go for it, so I said OK. Sometimes you can't hold him back - you feel it as a rider, too; you can't always make your DS happy, you have to go with your gut feeling, too. He's got a great feeling for the race itself."
What should have been Quick.Step's masterpiece started with a hiccup: the World Champion was isolated after the first big selection was made in the Arenberg forest. While Discovery had three riders in the front group, and other squads were also present with two riders each, Boonen found himself alone in the leading group. At first, Quick.Step DS Wilfried Peeters ordered his riders to chase back on to the leaders around Boonen, but after talking to last year's winner on the batphone, the Belgian team changed its mind.
"It could have been the same for us," Sunderland commented. "We were lucky to have Lars there too, and Discovery had three there, before they unfortunately lost Hincapie. The more teammates you got, the more help you have, so yes, maybe they lost the race there."
Tom Boonen ended up second, thanks to the disqualifications, but said, "I'm not happy with it. It was not deserved, I was dropped. I wasn't as super as I was last week in the Ronde, but good enough to win. I spent too much energy unnecessarily. I nearly crashed and felt cramp after that. I'm choked with dust. It was stressful all the time.
"I'm not disappointed: It's good that everyone realises that I'm not a robot. Losing can be a better lesson than winning."
Leif Hoste (Discovery Channel) was definitely not happy with the commissaires' decision to disqualify him. "This is ridiculous. They had 15 km to tell us, but no-one did that. The crossing closed just before we got there. They should have said something to us in the race, but not after. It's definitely against the sprit of the race. What can you do? Protest against the UCI? I don't think that it will do anything."
When asked about the disqualification of his riders, Johan Bruyneel (Discovery) told Cyclingnews afterwards, "I don't know what happened as I didn't see it. But it's definitely unacceptable for a race like Paris-Roubaix to be decided on a railway crossing. There should be enough parcours alternatives for the finale. A race like Paris-Roubaix doesn't deserve (an incident like that). It's unacceptable in professional sport."
A spokesman for organisers ASO admitted to Cyclingnews that, "It's an unpredictable accident de la course. The race was 15 minutes ahead of schedule and usually, we plan the route by considering the train schedule. But it was unpredicted that the race would be so fast."
How it unfolded
194 riders left the confines of Compiegne at 10:50am, under sunny skies and moderate winds blowing from the northwest - conditions that would accompany them all the way to Roubaix. Thierry Marichal (Cofidis) didn't start, suffering from stomach problems. Earlier in the morning, 29 riders from Liquigas, Gerolsteiner, Team LPR and Saunier Duval were blood tested, with all being declared fit to start.
As usual, it was a fast getaway and Marc De Maar (Rabobank) and Tristan Valentin (Cofidis) had the honours of initiating the attacks after 17 km, followed by Stephan Schreck (T-Mobile). But everything came to naught with a healthy 47.1 km covered in the first hour. The problems for Discovery Channel began early with George Hincapie crashing after 31 km. He returned to the peloton, shaken more than anything else, but it was not to be his day.
The break that stuck eventually came after 62 km, when Joost Posthuma (Rabobank), Nicolas Portal (Caisse d'Epargne), Stephan Schreck (T-Mobile) and Dmitri Konyshev (LPR) accelerated away, building a lead of 20 seconds. After 85 km, a chase group formed with Marco Righetto (Liquigas), Stephane Berges (Agritubel) and Iker Flores, who trailed the four leaders by 50 seconds through Busigny.
By the time the race reached the first of 27 sectors of pavé at Troisvilles (km 97), the four leaders had 1'20 on the three chasers and 2'05 on the bunch. Frank Hoj (Gerolsteiner) attacked the peloton and managed to bridge up as far as the chase group, but got no further. At the halfway point (km 130), the gap between the peloton and the lead break was up to 4'48, before T-Mobile, Discovery, Davitamon and Quick.Step began to work to close it down. But Davitamon lost one rider when Tom Steels crashed and broke his collarbone after clipping De Jongh's wheel after 127 km.
The inevitable race for position before the Arenberg Forest (km 163) started, and that spelled doom for the four chasers and also cut down the leaders' advantage rapidly. In front, Portal crashed on a sharp right hander and had to chase back on, while in the peloton, Sebastian Minard (Cofidis) crashed in exactly the same place. Gent-Wevelgem winner Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) was also having problems, puncturing twice and taking himself out of contention.
Quick.Step in particular made the most out of the race to the Arenberg, but maybe gambled too much on Tom Boonen. By the time the bunch reached the Forest, it was less than a minute behind the four leaders. Tom Boonen led the way onto the feared 2.4 km sector, with Hincapie, Steegmans and Cancellara all well placed. Then the CSC man took over and he was first to sweep by Posthuma, Schreck and Portal.
By the end of the sector, the damage had been done and 17 riders were left in front: Van Petegem, Steegmans (Davitamon), Hincapie, Gusev, Hoste (Discovery), Cancellara, Michaelsen (CSC), Boonen (Quick.Step), Wesemann, Schreck (T-Mobile), Guesdon, Eisel (FDJ), Posthuma, Flecha (Rabobank), Portal (Caisse d'Epargne), Ballan, Franzoi (Lampre). Boonen was surprisingly alone, and although his Quick.Step teammates mounted a serious chase behind to try to get Pozzato up front, it was to no avail, and the captain was left to fend for himself.
Early breakaways Schreck and Posthuma were the first to be dropped from the lead group, then Franzoi, and then Portal yo-yoed off the back on every cobbled section before eventually losing the group. In front, Flecha was particularly aggressive, putting in numerous accelerations on the cobbles to try to tire the others out.
Lars Michaelsen did a ton of work for his team leader Cancellara over many of the next sectors of cobbles, while Boonen looked to be riding a smart race and was never out of the top six. Discovery was the only team with three up front: Hincapie, Hoste and Gusev, and the cards were definitely in their favour for a while.
On sector 11 with 57 km to go, Flecha put in a strong acceleration that succeeded in gapping Wesemann and Steegmans, who were fraying at the edges. On the 3 km sector 10 at Mons-en-Pévèle (km 47), Cancellara attacked, causing more pain behind. Then came the disaster for Discovery: George Hincapie's aluminium steerer tube broke and he was left riding rudderless on the cobbles. He crashed on his right side, and although comparatively unhurt, had to watch the race go away without him. His Paris-Roubaix dream was over for another year.
There was no waiting around either. Flecha and Boonen upped the tempo, before Cancellara, Ballan and Van Petegem reacted. At the end of the sector, Flecha was off the back with Hoste, Gusev and Eisel, chasing the other four. They were able to return just after sector 9, and there were eight leaders: Van Petegem (Davitamon), Cancellara (CSC), Ballan (Lampre), Boonen (Quick.Step), Gusev, Hoste (Discovery), Flecha (Rabobank) and Eisel (FDJ).
On the pave at Cysoing (km 230), Gusev tumbled on a corner, bringing Ballan down as well. Both riders were able to rejoin the break, although Gusev took the longest time to do so. He managed it just before Camphin-en Pévèle (sector 5, km 239), and straight away took the lead. The others let him go, but Cancellara saw his chance and powered across to the Russian, the pair opening up a 10 second gap at the end of the cobbles.
Cancellara kept powering in front as he reached the Carrefour de l'Arbre, and with a strong ride on the sharp cobbles, he dropped Gusev for good. The break had split behind with Hoste and Van Petegem joining Gusev, and Boonen, Flecha and Ballan chasing another 10 seconds behind. Cancellara was now on his own and headed for victory, with his main opponent being possible misfortune.
The Swiss was lucky today though: he reached a train crossing at 10 km to go with a 30 second lead over the three chasers. But when they got there, the barriers had already come down to signal a train coming. They ducked through them and continued chasing, losing 10 seconds, but ultimately their positions in the race after the commissaires disqualified them. Boonen's group had to wait anyway, as the train was already upon them, but technically they went through when the barriers were lowered too - albeit after the train had passed.
It was clear at this stage that Cancellara wasn't going to be caught. He pushed his advantage even more - out to a minute - over the final 10 km, and entered the hallowed Roubaix velodrome to a huge cheer with enough time to celebrate as he did his one and a half laps of the track. He finished even before the next trio came in, and was already savouring the biggest win of his life in the centre of the velodrome when Hoste beat Van Petegem for second, with Gusev taking fourth. Boonen comfortably won his group sprint for fifth ahead of Ballan and Flecha, but had no idea that the positions would change later.
Less than 10 minutes after the race, the judges' decision became known: Hoste, Van Petegem and Gusev were all disqualified for running the barrier, meaning that Boonen was elevated to second and Ballan third. None of them were particularly happy with the outcome, but that didn't take anything away from Fabian Cancellara, who was by far the best man in the race today.