Gianni Moscon proved to be Team Sky's best rider at Paris-Roubaix, surviving an early crash and a bike change and then either chasing or anticipating the key attacks. He fought all the way to the Roubaix velodrome, finishing fifth.
He was distanced by Greg Van Avermaet, Zdenek Stybar and Sebastian Langeveld on the final sector of pavé but kept chasing with Jasper Stuyven. He was rewarded for his fighting spirit by catching the three leaders on the final lap of the velodrome. They were riding at the top of the track and so he jumped first with half a lap to go. It was a brave move but he was passed on the final banking and could do little as the others sprinted for victory.
Moscon will only turn 23 on April 20. This was an impressive spring campaign in only his second season as a professional with Team Sky – fifth place in the fastest and one of the most aggressive editions of Paris-Roubaix is arguably as impressive as Tom Boonen's third place in 2002 when he was just 22.
The Italian stopped on the far side of the velodrome after the finish, his face black with dust and marked by fatigue. He knew he had done a huge ride but struggled to take it all in.
"I hoped to still do something but Paris-Roubaix is such a hard race. I don't know what to say," where his first words, as Italian television tried to speak to him live on air.
"It was hard, I tried to anticipate the moves it because I was tired, the red light was on," he said before talking through the moment he caught Van Avermaet, Stybar and Langeveld in the velodrome.
"I thought they'd come fast from behind, so I decided to do something to surprise them. I just ended up leading out the sprint but I tried. After chasing for so long I wasn't one of the strongest and so I don't think the result would have changed."
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Moscon rode generously during the 257km race, often going on the front to close gaps and lead the chase of various attacks. He seems to have a natural feel for the right tactic at Paris-Roubaix and was never afraid to fight his way up the road when needed. He took matters into his own hands ahead of sector 12 of the pavé and that ensured he was in prime position when the big names attacked behind.
"I had some problems, I had to change bikes, I suffered so much but I believe I did a great race," he said. "I crashed in one of the first sectors, there was a crash ahead of me. I was hit from behind and I broke my frame. I kept going on the broken frame for some kilometres and took some risks but it worked out well. I then changed bikes and kept riding. After that I just kept riding. They always say never give up in Paris-Roubaix and I refused to give up."
Moscon's fifth place and strong ride at such a young age gave Team Sky something to celebrate after a frustrating spring campaign. Things did not go their way again at Paris-Roubaix.
Luke Rowe crashed early and eventually retired from the race. Ian Stannard suffered a puncture early on the pave sectors and had to fight back through the lined-out peloton. Other riders suffered crashes and flats, with Elia Viviani tasked with the role of helping riders move back up after any problems.
Jon Dibben was the last rider to finish, coming in 46:45 behind Van Avermaet in his professional debut at Paris-Roubaix with Team Sky. However, like fellow young British teammate Owain Doull and 17 other riders, he found himself cruelly outside the official time limit.
Rowe summed up Team Sky's morale in a tweet, writing: "Sometimes your the hammer sometimes your the nail, today I was the latter. My new hero is @GianniMoscon! I want a poster of him for my wall!"
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