Over the years, Fabian Cancellara tended not so much to win as to enjoy a two-wheeled triumphal march – see his defenestration of Tom Boonen on the Muur in 2010, or his decimation of the E3 Harelbeke field the following year – but it was his narrowest of victories at this year’s Paris-Roubaix that Cyclingnews readers have voted as the best one-day race of the 2013 season.
Winner of E3 Harelbeke and the Tour of Flanders in resounding fashion on the two previous weekends, Cancellara was the overwhelming favourite as Paris-Roubaix approached. For all that fortune plays its part on the unmade pavé of northern France, the race favours the strongman in a way that the intricate Ronde so often does not. The race, it seemed, was Cancellara’s to lose.
Cancellara, of course, had entered the 2011 Paris-Roubaix in a strikingly similar position, but the Swiss was outflanked by Garmin-Cervélo’s tactical manoeuvring and had to make do with second place behind a surprised Johan Vansummeren.
It must have seemed like a case of déjà vu all over again for Cancellara with a little over 30 kilometres to go in this year’s Hell of the North, when he found himself isolated and trailing a determined eight-man leading group by some 20 seconds. Indeed, with that lesson in mind, perhaps, Cancellara threw caution to the wind, and gave solo chase.
“I don’t know if I went on the offensive too early or not, but I just had to pick moments where I could go after them,” he would say afterwards. Once Cancellara latched onto the group, he began to whittle it down on each cobbled section, with the fearsome Carrefore de l’Arbre proving a key turning point, as both Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vandenbergh of Omega Pharma-QuickStep came a cropper on the pavé.
That left just two riders on the front, Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke. Still only 25 years of age, the Belgian seems destined to be a perennial contender at Flanders and Roubaix for the next decade, and with Cancellara tiring, a golden chance to open his classics account was yawning open before him.
Try as he might, Cancellara couldn’t rid himself of Vanmarcke over the final cobbled stretches, and the two entered the famous old velodrome together. Slowing as they approached the banking for the first time, Cancellara somehow manoeuvred Vanmarcke into first position, and that ultimately proved crucial.
On the final lap, Vanmarcke swooped down from the banking to open the sprint and for a brief moment in the finishing straight, it looked as though he had sprung the surprise of the spring. But Cancellara somehow summoned up one last effort, and edged out Vanmarcke on the line.
“I had the full cramps all over and then I just pedalled as hard as I could,” said Cancellara, who unclipped and lay flat on his back in the centre of the velodrome in exhaustion at the end of the race.
“I was probably just happy that the race was finished and that the fight was finished,” Cancellara said. “I could just sit on the grass and breathe and come back to planet Earth. This last hour was just pure fighting and I damaged myself like never before.”
For Vanmarcke, meanwhile, the defeat was a painful one. “I won't sleep for a couple of nights, and I'll keep riding this sprint again and again,” he said. “I know everybody will be proud, and I should be proud too but I'd much rather have won."
Paris-Roubaix was a convincing winner of our poll, attracting almost half of the votes cast and almost four times as many as second place. Indeed, Cancellara’s status as the year’s pre-eminent Classics rider is demonstrated by the fact that his victory over Peter Sagan at the Tour of Flanders finished second in our poll.
The internecine drama in the Spanish camp at the men’s road race at the world championships also fired imaginations in 2013 and the race finished third in our poll. Rui Costa (Portugal) claimed the title ahead of Joaquim Rodriguez, who was less than pleased with his teammate Alejandro Valverde’s failure to protect his interests in the finale.
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