The German rider latched onto a dangerous move initiated by Van Avermaet and Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep), and even after the lead group swelled to seven riders he had more than enough to take his second Monument of the season after winning Milan-San Remo last month.
"This is the race I’ve always dreamt of winning," Degenkolb said before hugging his teammates at the finish.
In a race that ebbed and flowed with different dynamics and groups coming into play with each sector of cobbles, Degenkolb stood out, not just for his expected strong finish – he was second on the velodrome last year – but for his aggression and precision at key points in the race.
When Van Avermaet and Lampaert created a small buffer on the elite contenders inside the final 12 kilometres Degenkolb’s teammate Bert De Backer jumped clear. It created an opportunity for Degenkolb to follow just moments later and he quickly linked up with his teammate before forging clear and joining Van Avermaet and Lampaert.
When the Etixx rider understandably refused to work Degenkolb didn't panic. He and Van Avermaet continued to share the work as a move that included Stybar, Lars Boom and Jens Keukeleire joined up to form the final winning break inside the final few kilometres.
Coming into the velodrome it was Etixx who hit the front with Stybar in second wheel and Degenkolb riding in his slipstream. When the Milan-San Remo winner opened his sprint on the final banking there was little challenge from the rest of the break. Stybar hung on for second with Van Avermaet claimed yet another podium in a spring Monument.
"This is unbelievable. I can’t believe it, right now. I’ve had to work very hard for it and my team was there the whole day to hold the situation under control, until I could start my race. We knew that it was going to be hard and that a big group could go to the finish. I was in a situation that I had to go, otherwise I’d be in the same situation as last year [when he finished second behind lone winner Terpstra, ed.]. I had to invest something and I was not afraid to fail. That was the key.
"When you are probably the fastest guy, nobody wants to work with you and bring you to the finish. That’s why I decided to go by myself. I think it was the right decision and at the right moment. It was really, really hard but I’m just so happy and proud."
How it unfolded
In stark contrast to the grey clouds, wind and rain that featured in Compiègne on Saturday, the 200 riders who lined up at the start line on Sunday were treated to sun and a favourable tailwind that blew them towards the first of 27 sectors of pavé.
A blistering fast hour of racing at an average of 50 km/h featured a lot of attacks and despite the high-speed nine riders managed to power away. They were Sean De Bie (Lotto-Soudal), Grégory Rast (Trek Factory Racing), Alexis Gougéard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling), Pierre-Luc Périchon (Bretagne-Séché Environnement), Adam Blythe (Orica-GreenEdge), Tim Declercq (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Ralf Matzka (Bora-Argon 18) and Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert).
After 75 kilometres of racing the nine had a maximum lead of 10 minutes over the peloton with Team Sky and Katusha starting to pick up the speed.
The gap slowly started to come down on the third sector of pavé while heading towards the first monstrous sector of Arenberg. Just before the forest team Sky’s Geraint Thomas flatted, forcing him to start the Arenberg at the back of the peloton.
BMC led the main field over the first part of the Arenberg, about five minutes behind the leaders.
Possibly due to the dry weather conditions, there were few incidents and a large group exited the forest at more than five minutes from the leaders, where Sean De Bie punctured. Bradley Wiggins was among the riders who was distanced but he quickly returned.
On a railroad crossing after the Arenberg forest, a major incident occurred with train barriers coming down with three quarters of the peloton ignoring the lights and slaloming over the tracks shortly before a TGV-train passed through. A little later, the race jury placed motorbikes in front of the peloton to make them wait for the riders who were held up.
The Etixx-QuickStep team made their first surge at sector 14 over the Tilloy – Sars-et-Rosières, after 180 kilometres of racing, while trailing the leaders by less than four minutes.
After coming off the sector the course turned briefly right, resulting in a section with crosswinds. Five Etixx–QuickStep riders featured at front of the peloton and created a lot of damage. Van Avermaet and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) were among the riders who were caught behind in a second echelon, and Wiggins even further behind, but they all managed to work their way back into the mix.
With just over 50 kilometres from the finish the peloton hit pavé sector 11 over the Auchy-lez-Orchies – Bersée at less than two minutes from the break. While Slovakian champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) accelerated, his teammate Matti Breschel and former winner Johan Vansummeren (AG2R-La Mondiale) were among the victims of a crash just before the Mons-en-Pévèle at sector 10.
The remains of the peloton – about 40 riders - hit the cobbles and Etixx–QuickStep made a second move with a fierce acceleration into crosswinds from Stijn Vandenbergh. In the peloton, FDJ took the initiative on sector 9 over the Mérignies – Avelin with Yoann Offredo leading out French champion Arnaud Démare. The FDJ-led field was about 15 seconds down on Vandenbergh, who was a minute down on the five leaders.
Wiggins lived up to his role of favourite by emerging alone at Moulin de Vertain. The former Tour de France winner quickly caught up with Vandenbergh, and Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Soudal) and Stybar also bridged across.
Katusha worked hard in the peloton to bring the Wiggins-group back, which happened just before sector 6 through the Cysoing – Bourghelles. Lars Boom (Astana) led the peloton over the sector with the breakaway group within sight.
The move from Boom caused damage in the peloton and once off the cobbles Van Avermaet and Sagan kept the pace high.
On the following sector of Bourghelles - Wannehain, last year’s winner Niki Tersptra attacked. Once off the cobbles an select group bridged up to the breakaway. The pace dropped back and with 21 kilometres to go about 20 riders were together in front of the race.
In front Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) and Borut Bozic (Astana) attacked, however, on the cobbles of Camphin-en-Pévèle (sector 5) Roelandts dropped the Astana rider ahead of the typically crucial sector of Le Carrefour de l’Arbre.
Thought it was a strong late-race effort, the Lotto-Soudal rider was reeled in with 14 kilometres to go after a ferocious acceleration from Boom. Once caught, the lull in pace allowed Van Avermaet and Lampaert to jump clear.
With the pair still within sight, De Backer set up Degenkolb.
Even when Stybar, and then a trio of Boom, Elmiger and Keukeleire made it seven riders at the front of the race, Degenkolb remained composed. With Sagan and Kristoff out of the picture, he was undoubtedly the fastest finisher in the group.
He kept close to the front and survived the final and relatively gentle sector of cobbles in Roubaix, and rounded the track before doing what he does best — winning the sprint to the line.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin||5:49:51|
|2||Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|3||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team|
|4||Lars Boom (Ned) Astana Pro Team|
|5||Martin Elmiger (Swi) IAM Cycling|
|6||Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica GreenEdge|
|7||Yves Lampaert (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step||0:00:07|
|8||Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky||0:00:28|
|9||Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:00:29|
|10||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha||0:00:31|
|11||Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Team LottoNL-Jumbo|
|12||Bert De Backer (Bel) Team Giant-Alpecin|
|13||Aleksejs Saramotins (Lat) IAM Cycling|
|14||Borut Bozic (Slo) Astana Pro Team|
|15||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|16||Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Bora-Argon 18|
|17||Florian Senechal (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|18||Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky|
|19||Björn Leukemans (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert|
|20||Grégory Rast (Swi) Trek Factory Racing|
|21||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|22||Marco Marcato (Ita) Wanty - Groupe Gobert|
|23||Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo|
|24||Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Astana Pro Team||0:01:38|
|25||Frederik Backaert (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert|
|26||Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|27||Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin||0:02:21|
|28||André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal||0:02:55|
|29||Michael Morkov (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo|
|30||Tim De Troyer (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert|
|31||Koen De Kort (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin|
|32||Yoann Offredo (Fra) FDJ.fr|
|33||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|34||Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|35||Lars Ytting Bak (Den) Lotto Soudal|
|36||Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Lotto Soudal||0:02:58|
|37||Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ.fr||0:03:21|
|38||Benoit Jarrier (Fra) Bretagne-Séché Environnement|
|39||Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Team LottoNL-Jumbo|
|40||Yannick Martinez (Fra) Team Europcar||0:03:24|
|41||Tim Declercq (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|42||Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team|
|43||Dmitriy Gruzdev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|44||Luca Paolini (Ita) Team Katusha|
|45||Danny Van Poppel (Ned) Trek Factory Racing|
|46||Sébastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale|
|47||Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky||0:03:29|
|48||Marco Haller (Aut) Team Katusha||0:06:05|
|49||Jasper Stuyven (Bel) Trek Factory Racing|
|50||Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Rus) Team Katusha|
|51||Matteo Trentin (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step||0:07:35|
|52||Maarten Wynants (Bel) Team LottoNL-Jumbo||0:07:48|
|53||Edward Theuns (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise||0:07:50|
|54||Tyler Farrar (USA) MTN - Qhubeka|
|55||Alessandro Bazzana (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling|
|56||Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra) Team Europcar|
|57||Oliver Naesen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|58||Jarl Salomein (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|59||Frederico Zurlo (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling|
|60||Davide Frattini (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling|
|61||Nelson Oliveira (Por) Lampre-Merida|
|62||Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|63||Stefan Küng (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|64||Imanol Erviti (Spa) Movistar Team|
|65||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|66||Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Movistar Team|
|67||Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team|
|68||Roy Curvers (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin|
|69||Scott Thwaites (GBr) Bora-Argon 18|
|70||Alexander Porsev (Rus) Team Katusha|
|71||Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team Sky|
|72||Kristijan Koren (Slo) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team|
|73||Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team|
|74||Markel Irizar (Spa) Trek Factory Racing|
|75||Johan Van Summeren (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale|
|76||Mathew Hayman (Aus) Orica GreenEdge|
|77||Jack Bauer (NZl) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team||0:07:56|
|78||Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo|
|79||John Gadret (Fra) Movistar Team|
|80||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) IAM Cycling|
|81||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Sky|
|82||William Bonnet (Fra) FDJ.fr|
|83||Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo|
|84||Damien Gaudin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:08:13|
|85||Adam Blythe (GBr) Orica GreenEdge||0:08:24|
|86||Stig Broeckx (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:10:53|
|87||Thomas Leezer (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo|
|88||Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise||0:11:59|
|89||Pavel Brutt (Rus) Tinkoff-Saxo||0:12:25|
|90||Roger Kluge (Ger) IAM Cycling||0:13:06|
|91||Mitchell Docker (Aus) Orica GreenEdge|
|92||Zakkari Dempster (Aus) Bora-Argon 18|
|93||Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Tinkoff-Saxo||0:15:21|
|94||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling|
|95||Christopher Jones (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling|
|96||Ralf Matzka (Ger) Bora-Argon 18|
|97||Matti Breschel (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo|
|98||Bjorn Thurau (Ger) Bora-Argon 18||0:16:32|
|99||Nikolas Maes (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|100||Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|101||Pierre-Luc Perichon (Fra) Bretagne-Séché Environnement||0:17:16|
|102||Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica GreenEdge||0:17:24|
|103||Rick Zabel (Ger) BMC Racing Team|
|104||David Boucher (Fra) FDJ.fr|
|105||Andrew Fenn (GBr) Team Sky|
|106||Michael Schwarzmann (Ger) Bora-Argon 18|
|107||Kevin Van Melsen (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert|
|108||Michael Van Staeyen (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|109||Antoine Duchesne (Can) Team Europcar|
|110||Gert Joeaar (Est) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:17:27|
|111||Gediminas Bagdonas (Ltu) AG2R La Mondiale|
|112||Tom Devriendt (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert|
|113||John Murphy (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling|
|114||Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo|
|115||Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Trek Factory Racing||0:17:32|
|116||Pieter Van Speybrouck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise|
|117||Simone Antonini (Ita) Wanty - Groupe Gobert||0:17:34|
|118||Albert Timmer (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin|
|119||Sébastien Turgot (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:17:39|
|120||Robert Wagner (Ger) Team LottoNL-Jumbo|
|121||Matthieu Boulo (Fra) Bretagne-Séché Environnement|
|122||Christophe Laborie (Fra) Bretagne-Séché Environnement|
|123||Quentin Jauregui (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:24:54|
|124||Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka|
|125||Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin|
|126||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team|
|127||Daniel Summerhill (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling|
|128||Julien Morice (Fra) Team Europcar|
|129||Nikolay Trusov (Rus) Tinkoff-Saxo|
|130||Frédéric Brun (Fra) Bretagne-Séché Environnement|
|131||Tom Stamsnijder (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin||0:27:12|
|132||Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica GreenEdge|
|133||Dylan Van Baarle (Ned) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team|
|OTL||Sam Bewley (NZl) Orica GreenEdge|
|OTL||Morgan Lamoisson (Fra) Team Europcar|
|OTL||Daniil Fominykh (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|OTL||Tanner Putt (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling|
|OTL||Iljo Keisse (Bel) Etixx - Quick-Step|
|OTL||Shane Archbold (NZl) Bora-Argon 18|
|OTL||Jay Robert Thomson (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka|
|DNF||Adrien Petit (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Andreas Stauff (Ger) MTN - Qhubeka|
|DNF||Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) MTN - Qhubeka|
|DNF||Gerald Ciolek (Ger) MTN - Qhubeka|
|DNF||Matt Brammeier (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka|
|DNF||Théo Bos (Ned) MTN-Qhubeka|
|DNF||Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Bretagne-Séché Environnement|
|DNF||Kenneth Van Bilsen (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Murilo Antonio Fischer (Bra) FDJ.fr|
|DNF||Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Jonas Ahlstrand (Swe) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Ruben Zepuntke (Ger) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team|
|DNF||Kristoffer Skjerping (Nor) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team|
|DNF||Alan Marangoni (Ita) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team|
|DNF||Clément Venturini (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|DNF||Kevin Ledanois (Fra) Bretagne-Séché Environnement|
|DNF||Jelle Wallays (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|DNF||Stijn Steels (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|DNF||Giovanni Bernaudeau (Fra) Team Europcar|
|DNF||Yohann Gene (Fra) Team Europcar|
|DNF||Vincent Jerome (Fra) Team Europcar|
|DNF||James Vanlandschoot (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert|
|DNF||Jesus Herrada (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Adriano Malori (Ita) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Enrique Sanz Unzue (Spa) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Jasha Sütterlin (Ger) Movistar Team|
|DNF||Christoph Pfingsten (Ger) Bora-Argon 18|
|DNF||Lasse Norman Hansen (Den) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team|
|DNF||Daniel Mclay (GBr) Bretagne-Séché Environnement|
|DNF||Stijn Devolder (Bel) Trek Factory Racing|
|DNF||Rüdiger Selig (Ger) Team Katusha|
|DNF||Gatis Smukulis (Lat) Team Katusha|
|DNF||Vladimir Isaychev (Rus) Team Katusha|
|DNF||Rick Flens (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo|
|DNF||Bram Tankink (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo|
|DNF||Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky|
|DNF||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky|
|DNF||Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team|
|DNF||Mickael Delage (Fra) FDJ.fr|
|DNF||Robert Förster (Ger) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling|
|DNF||Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ.fr|
|DNF||Maxat Ayazbayev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Marc Sarreau (Fra) FDJ.fr|
|DNF||Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana Pro Team|
|DNF||Jonas Van Genechten (Bel) IAM Cycling|
|DNF||Hayden Roulston (NZl) Trek Factory Racing|
|DNF||Gert Steegmans (Bel) Trek Factory Racing|
|DNF||Jens Mouris (Ned) Orica GreenEdge|
|DNF||Hugo Houle (Can) AG2R La Mondiale|
|DNF||Sean De Bie (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|DNF||Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|DNF||Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|DNF||Chun Kai Feng (Tpe) Lampre-Merida|
|DNF||Manuele Mori (Ita) Lampre-Merida|
|DNF||Luka Pibernik (Slo) Lampre-Merida|
|DNF||Ariel Maximiliano RICHEZE|
|DNF||Matthias Brandle (Aut) IAM Cycling|
|DNF||Jérôme Pineau (Fra) IAM Cycling|
|DNF||Ruslan Tleubayev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|