Damien Gaudin (Europcar) had never won a race before this season, but after winning the prologue of Paris-Nice and the GP Cholet last month, the Frenchman continued his hitherto unparalleled purple patch with fifth place at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
It was the second time in as many seasons that Europcar had produced a surprise actor in the finale at Paris-Roubaix - Sébastien Turgot was second last year - and it continued Jean-René Bernaudeau's team's recent tradition of producing some wholly unexpected performances on the big occasion.
Gaudin lost out to Niki Tersptra and Greg Van Avermaet in the sprint for third place behind winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard), but he was swarmed by French reporters when he rolled to a halt past the finish and lay down on the grass of the Roubaix velodrome.
"I think I had good legs because to finish fifth in Paris-Roubaix you have to be good," Gaudin said between deep breaths as his soigneur wiped the mud away from his face. "It's a pity because I was playing it out for the podium but I had cramps in the finale, and I had to take on the finale au courage. But it was a super day for me.
Gaudin has pedigree, of course, in that he won the under 23 version of Paris-Roubaix in 2007 but the rouleur from Beaupréau had never before performed to such a level in a major Classic with the professionals before now.
Certainly, Gaudin showed few inhibitions with when he jumped alone from the main peloton to a break with 50km to go, and then immediately attacked by himself. Gaudin was soon brought to heel, but he accelerated again on sector 6, with 28km remaining.
"If I had raced à la pèdale and tried to follow, it would have been difficult because I'm not the best rider here, so I wanted to anticipate the moves. I took my own race in hand and I'm pleased with that," he said.
Gaudin was unable to follow Cancellara when he began what proved to be the race's decisive move, but he dismissed the idea that he had been too aggressive. "You can regret anything afterwards but what do you want?" he said. "It did me no harm to attack. Besides, everything was saying that you needed to anticipate to beat Cancellara, but I didn't see too many other people who anticipated today."
Still only 26 years of age, time is on Gaudin's side as he bids to become the first Frenchman to win Paris-Roubaix since Frédéric Guesdon in 1997, but he insisted that he had entered this year's race with lofty aspirations.
"I had ambitions this year already, I really did, and I'll be back next year with the same again," he said. "There's a little bit of disappointment to miss out on the podium but I can only be happy with my race and the way that I went on the attack."
Disappointment for Chavanel
While Gaudin was toasting fifth place, there was disappointment for the other French contenders at the Hell of the North. A puncture meant the Sébastien Turgot had to settle for 11th, while crashes ended the challenge of FDJ's duo of Yoann Offredo and Mathieu Ladagnous.
Paris-Roubaix has never been kind to Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and his unfortunate run continued on Sunday. The Frenchman snapped a gear cable on the cobbles at Bersée, with 50km to race, and he missed his chance to jump across to the leaders.
Chavanel recovered sufficiently to finish in 19th place, 50 seconds down on Cancellara, but his wait for a monument victory continues. "I really felt very good and everything was under control," he said. "But then I had the mechanical problem and I was stuck on the little ring. They attacked in front and I couldn't follow. When I changed my bike, it was too late and the race had gone up the road."
"I'm really very frustrated because I showed that I could have been with the best in the finale. Once again, I've been a victim of bad luck but that's Paris-Roubaix and you just have to accept it."
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