Sébastien Hinault says he was "very proud" to be France's best finisher in this year's Paris-Roubaix, taking ninth place ahead of riders such as Grégory Rast, George Hincapie and 1997 champion Frédéric Guesdon.
The AG2R La Mondiale rider, who was with the group of top favourites chasing race winner Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), suffered a hunger knock in the finale and admitted that he could have placed even higher.
"I was hoping to be among the top 20, top 10 if everything went right... but today, even a top five placing was possible," Hinault told AFP at the finish in Roubaix's velodrome. "I was in the top group with Boonen, Flecha, Hushovd, Pozzato... With 20 kilometres to go, I had a bit of a hunger knock. When Flecha attacked, I got dropped. I was scared that guys would come back from behind, but then I managed to score a placing in the top ten - not too bad!"
Hinault, who is not related to five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault, even attacked out of the group of favourites with 55 kilometres to go, together with Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil). Shortly afterwards, the eventual winner Cancellara made his move and rocketed past them.
"I saw him up close when he passed us. He was about three or four kilometres an hour faster than us on the cobbles. We didn't even try to follow him. The only one who tried was Leukemans - he did 300 metres and then he exploded," said the Frenchman about the Swiss powerhouse.
"He had so much horsepower, they don't call him Spartacus for nothing. It's impressive! He's really born for these kind of races. He already showed off this kind of grand numéro in the Tour of Flanders..."
Hinault saw his personal Paris-Roubaix best as another very good result for French cycling. "We are starting to improve. At the Tour of Flanders, there were five or six of us in the top 25. Here, I'm ninth. We're improving. For sure, we don't have a Cancellara in France. We make the best of our possibilities and I think that we're not doing badly."