Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) had imagined a different final Paris-Roubaix of his career. He had hoped to fight for victory, to take on Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep), and maybe even win alone one last time in the Roubaix velodrome.
But cycling can be a cruel sport even for a rider of Cancellara’s stature. Crashes left him racing against the odds and chasing with Sagan for much of the race, then a final crash on the Mons en Pevele sector – his favourite sector of the race, left him battered and bruised, and out of contention.
He fought on to finish 40th in the velodrome, 7:35 down on Mat Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge) but then fell again on the banking as he tried to stop to hug his supporters, and then his wife and young daughters who ran to greet him.
“I’m not sad, I’m happy not to be in hospital. I’m happy to have finished,” Cancellara said to journalists as he tried to find some logic to an emotional but ultimately confusing day.
“When the first crash happened, I had to jump in the field, the second one was a bit unlucky, then the third one I was ice-skating and I couldn’t do anything. I tried to chase for 15km but my Roubaix was gone.”
An intense spring is over
Cancellara seemed relieved that his final Classics campaign was finally over. It has been an intense spring even for him.
"Somehow yes, but somehow no," Cancellara said when asked if ending his final Roubaix this way was hard. "Last week (defeat at the Tour of Flanders) was harder (to accept), and I am just happy it is over. I was quite relaxed when I entered the velodrome. This was a different feeling than Flanders; there it was a battle to the end.
"I mean, even crashing on the velodrome in front of my fans, I don't care, because one crash more or less changes nothing for my career. I’m hurting all over but it was nice to finish it here and be with my family. I am just happy in another way, but not happy about the race. Just happy it is done."
After a few minutes of speaking in English, French and Italian, Cancellara broke away to run to teammate Yaroslav Popovych as he came to a stop on the far side of the velodrome. Paris-Roubaix is the final race of the Ukrainian’s long career and Cancellara wanted to thank him and celebrate together. They hugged, knowing that they will not experience moments like it again. Later Cancellara carried Popovych to the Trek-Segafredo team bus on his shoulders.
“I started Paris-Roubaix in 2003 in a bad way (by climbing off at the feed zone). I don’t know if this finish this way is bad but that’s Paris-Roubaix. I’m going to enjoy this moment and I want to celebrate with Popo. This is my last Paris-Roubaix. Now I can have a break. Then we’ll see what happens.
“I go home knowing that somehow that's sport, that's cycling – you can win and you can lose, and we can still celebrate all that."
Watch the highlights above and click here to subscribe to the Cyclingnews channel.