Paris-Roubaix - Race debrief

Race: Paris-Roubaix (WorldTour)
Date: April 8, 2018
Distance: 257km
Weather: Dry, light tailwind

Podium: 1st: Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), 2nd: Silvan Dillier (AG2R La Mondiale), 3rd Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors).

Winner's quote: "This year I was never involved in a crash, I never flat-tyred, I saved energy and then just did one step forward; I attacked. I kept going until the finish."

The group strung out and Van Avermaet continued to ride hard, only to pull over when he saw no one else was willing to come through. At that point, Sagan appeared on the left-hand side of the road, shifted down into the drops, and accelerated away. Van Avermaet looked around and asked who was going to chase but, aside from a brief turn from Van Aert, no one stuck their hand up and their nose into the wind.

Burghardt, almost comically, found himself at the front of the chase group, soft-pedalling of course, and that was that.

Final kilometre: Dillier led Sagan under the flamme rouge as they turned right onto the short approach road to the Roubaix velodrome, and the pair stayed in that formation all the way to the final 100 metres. Dillier slowed as they took to the concrete track and frequently checked over his shoulder, but the Swiss champion, who has experience on the track, never really drew Sagan into a proper game of cat and mouse.

Dillier waited and waited until, on the final bend at the top of the velodrome, then Sagan decided to take the initiative and swooped down and into the final straight. You always felt Dillier needed a minor miracle to win and indeed Sagan's turn of pace, as expected, proved too much.

Early break: It was a fast and frantic opening hour but things settled down when a nine-rider group went clear of the peloton, containing an even mix of WorldTour and Pro Continental riders.

Dillier, of course, was amongst them, and his podium finish echoed Mat Hayman's winning ride from two years ago, when the Australian went in the early break and clung on when the big hitters arrived later in the day. There surely won't be any lack of interest in making the break next year.

Unsung hero: Out of all the figures on the start line, Marc Soler stood out as a general classification rider in a sea of one-day cobblestone specialists.

A former winner of the Tour de l'Avenir, the Spaniard is considered one of the next big things in stage racing. He won Paris-Nice last month, and became the first reigning champion of the 'Race to the Sun' to line up at Paris-Roubaix in 30 years. So if it was surprising simply to see him on the start line, it was even more so to see him in the breakaway, and more surprising still to see how well he rode in that move. He was the fifth of nine to be dropped, and even then hung with Stybar over a couple of pavé sectors while the Czech rider was on the attack.

Soler's future doesn't lie on the cobbles, but he clearly showcased his versatility and, with stage 9 of this year's Tour de France heading over many of the same cobbles, he may well be in line for a debut at La Grande Boucle.

Most aggressive rider: Making his move more than 50km out, Sagan was nothing if not bold, but it could be said that it was one well-judged, controlled piece of aggression that engineered his victory. Nils Politt, meanwhile, attacked several times. He pulled off a long solo bridge after Philippe Gilbert and Mike Teunissen had gone clear on the Trouée d'Arenberg, only for that move to come to nothing. He missed the boat when Terpstra took an elite six-rider chase group clear on Mons-en-Pévèle, but attacked again from the third group. He never made it across but ended up leading home that thinned out group to take a fine seventh place finish.

Unluckiest rider: Take your pick. Oliver Naesen was held up by crashes and mechanicals to continue his dire run of luck this spring. A mechanical on Camhpin-en-Pévèle with 17.5km to go took Wout Van Aert out of the first chase group and out of contention for the podium. Zdenek Stybar also had a hard time with mechanicals. Spare a thought, too, for Matteo Trentin and Alexander Kristoff, both wiped out by crashes entirely of others' making.

Talking point: Where were Quick-Step Floors when Sagan went?

The Belgian team was on everyone's favourites list in the pre-race build-up thanks to the way they had dominated the spring Classics up to that point, and it looked like the race would once again revolve around them. Gilbert enjoyed some time off the front with Teunissen after Arenberg, while Stybar went solo for a while soon after Gilbert had been caught.

When Sagan made his move, however, there was zero response from the 'wolfpack', despite there being four of them in the main group.

"I saw Sagan leave, but I was a little bit trapped at that moment," said Stybar. "I looked around and thought: 'Hey guys, Peter Sagan is attacking. Why does nobody react?'" Lampaert similarly complained that the other riders in the group looked at Quick-Step to do the work. "There was disorganization," was how Gilbert saw it. "No team was together at that time." Terpstra made no excuses: "We should have woken up when Peter went."

The question mark with Quick-Step is always how they can channel such a cast of stars into working for the common good. Team manager Patrick Lefevere has got it spot on almost all spring, but here there were certainly question marks over cohesion and why no one stuck their hand up and said 'I'll go after Sagan'. "It's always easy to talk in hindsight," said Lefevere. With this Classics campaign already his most successful in years, he was spared the sort of inquest that might have followed in other years.

Expert says: "I'm not sure if Sagan went off thinking he would go all the way; I think he was expecting a reaction from the riders behind, to form a group and maybe then settle it with his strength in a sprint. After that, though, the race situation was his strength – he came across a super breakaway companion in Silvan Dillier." - Thomas Voeckler.

THE HOLY WEEK - Trailer from Cyclingnews Films on Vimeo.

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Patrick Fletcher
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.