One of the more unexpected outcomes of Paris-Roubaix was the emergence of Israel Start-Up Nation as a real force in the race with the squad placing two men – Guillaume Boivin and Tom Van Asbroeck – among the first 10 to finish in the Roubaix velodrome.
Israel Start-Up Nation lined up in Compiègne in the morning under the watchful gaze of co-owners Ron Baron and Sylvan Adams with Sep Vanmarcke leading an eight-man squad that featured a number of powerful, if under-rated riders.
While Vanmarcke's afternoon was, once again in a major Classic, marked by bad luck Van Asbroeck delivered a career-best eighth place while Canadian champion Boivin finished alongside his teammate in ninth.
Van Asbroeck had made it into the day's large early break and was one of the last survivors before Gianni Moscon (Ineos-Grenadiers) made his long-range move on Auchy à Berseé, while the impressive Boivin was the only man able to go with eventual winner Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) when the latter attacked on that same cobbled sector.
Van Asbroeck, who was eventually caught by that trio, would put in a shift for Boivin before being distanced inside the final 20 kilometres. The Canadian, however, dropped out of contention is far more painful – and disappointing – way on Camphin-en-Pévèle.
"I think we're going to go straight to the hospital. I'm scared my wrist is broken. Shit," he said in the Roubaix velodrome after the finish, having crashed hard on sector 5.
"I had the best day of my life on the bike. I just came from the favourites group. I punctured on the first sector of the day and then I chased back for like 50 kilometres from group to group to get back to the front. Yeah, I fucked it all in one sector.
"You do almost fricking 30 sectors and nothing happens, then a few sectors to go and that. I'm really disappointed."
Boivin's team later confirmed in their post-race report that Boivin had suffered heavy bruising on his wrist, not that the news would soothe the 32-year-old's disappointment. Sunday marked his first time being in contention so deep into such a big race, having last posted a WorldTour top 10 placing back in 2014.
"It means a lot, you know. But you're not in a position to win Paris-Roubaix too often in a career," he said. "I think I was still feeling like I've got some legs to go to the finish. Massively disappointed, but I'm sure I'll look back tomorrow and I'll be pretty proud. It's been a good end of the season and I'm sure I'll build on it for next year."
"It was pretty crazy, yeah. You had to be focussed. I guess it's kind of cool to have done a rainy edition of Roubaix. I hope the fans are happy for another 20 years before we get rain."
Van Asbroeck, meanwhile, called the day the hardest of his career. The 31-year-old said, however, that he was satisfied with the day's efforts, which, like Boivin, saw him compete in the final of Paris-Roubaix for the first time.
"This is my first final in this race," he said. "I can't complain and I'm super satisfied. To be in the top ten here is an achievement in itself. We stayed in front for a long time, but, unfortunately, I couldn't keep up. I had a bit of a dip and Gianni Moscon pushed really hard.
"This was the hardest day of my career, and that’s an understatement. In general, Paris-Roubaix is a very tough race, but with these conditions, it’s another level. The mud pools, the rain, and how treacherous the cobbles were, made it so incredibly hard."
As for Israel Start-Up Nation leader, Vanmarcke, well he suffered horrendous luck with three punctures, two bike changes and a crash, eventually ending up in 23rd place, 6:21 down on Colbrelli. It was a missed opportunity for the Belgian, who said that he was in great shape on the day.
"During the race I felt I was going really good over the cobbles and the mud," he told Cyclingnews. "I felt that I once again would be able to play a role in the final. Three punctures and the resulting two bike changes, at the end a dropping saddle and a crash in between… every time I had to come back between tumbling motorbikes and halted cars blocking the way. That was tough.
"Nevertheless, I always managed to bridge back up. Luckily, we had two men up front with Tom and Guillaume Boivin who performed magnificently. That’s something that pleases me a lot and I’m really happy for them and for the team.
"Obviously, personally, it’s another missed opportunity. Now, I’m going to see the doctor because I can barely see through my eyes."
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