Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) may have had fans and spectators gushing when another astounding demonstration of bike handling saw him make his way up and over a fallen Fabian Cancellara, but it marked the moment his chances of winning Paris-Roubaix went out of the window.
The world champion was chasing at the time, having been one of the big favourites caught out when the race began to split following a crash on sector 21 of pavé with just under 155km remaining. Etixx-QuickStep drove hard through Tony Martin and Tom Boonen, putting Sagan and Cancellara on the back foot.
Those two were the figureheads of the chase and when Cancellara surged on the Orchies sector, with Sagan on his wheel and soon coming through for a turn, it looked like they might drag themselves back into contention. Disaster struck, however, when Cancellara came down hard on the muddy Mons-en-Pévèle. Sagan, right behind, somehow managed to get over and avoid crashing but he had lost his strongest ally, and the long chase turned into a lonely and futile one.
“The last chance was to collaborate with Cancellara but then he crashed, and that was the last chance gone,” Sagan said ruefully outside the Tinkoff bus.
“It was a crazy race. Today I had bad luck, also Cancellara I think. All the teams made their own strategies, riding to their own interests. Two favourites from the race were out in the crash, then three teams had to go, and they had a lot of riders to control the race. That’s how it was.”
After his dominant display at the Tour of Flanders last week, Sagan was considered to be the strongest rider going into the race, and there was much excited talk of a Flanders-Roubaix double in the rainbow jersey.
Such is the unpredictability of the Hell of the North, however, that luck goes just as far as strength. Perhaps it was a sign of the day the Slovakian would have when his most important teammate Oscar Gatto crashed out of the race before the decisive splits began.
“Everybody before was asking me if I was going to win or not but this is Paris-Roubaix and you never know what is going to happen,” said Sagan, whose best finish here remains his sixth place of 2014.
“I was involved in two crashes already before the Arenberg sector and I was already in the second group there and without any cooperation it was hard to get back.”
Tinkoff DS Lars Michaelsen agreed that they simply didn’t have the luck of the green today.
“After all there was nothing wrong with Peter’s legs today, the race unfolded against his favour and that’s racing,” said Michaelsen in a statement from the team.
“When the other teams see how he won in Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders then they will attack earlier than expected. It had already been a hard race when the move came today and it worked against us.”
Watch the highlights above and click here to subscribe to the Cyclingnews channel.