"Bittersweet" was the word Luke Rowe used to encapsulate the contrasting emotions of his fourth Paris-Roubaix. The Team Sky rider was beset by bad luck and saw his own chances go out of the window, but his selfless dedication helped teammate and close friend Ian Stannard reach the podium.
"I left it all out there," said Rowe, who emptied the tank after hitting the deck when Gianni Moscon crashed on sector 11. Sky had numbers at that stage, and Rowe was looking good to repeat – or better – his eighth-place finish of last year. On the arduous chase back to the front of the race, however, the Welshman decided to commit everything he had left to the cause of his teammate.
"I had to chase to get back and I knew then that the one big effort of the day was done. So as soon as I came back I said to Yogi [Stannard - ed.], ‘I'm all yours man, just tell me what to do and I'll do it," Rowe told Cyclingnews and a couple of other journalists outside the Team Sky bus.
"You know how everyone gives something to someone…the whole team was incredible and gave so much to us, and the way it turned out I gave everything I had to Yogi and he's finished on the podium in what I consider to be the biggest Monument in the world. I'm super happy for him."
Rowe came into the race on the back of his strongest Classics campaign to date, with impressive performances at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Tour of Flanders, where he achieved his best ever Monument finish with fifth. With four men at the head of a fractured and aggressive race, and favourites well behind, the 26-year-old was probably starting to get excited about his prospects. Paris-Roubaix, however, can be a cruel race.
"For me it's kind of bittersweet. The crash, then I punctured on Carrefour [de l'Arbre], then before the velodrome my rear mech stopped working," he explained, before saying stoically: "That's Paris-Roubaix. If you speak to every team, everyone has their story about today, and their opinion about how the race could have gone better. No one has a clean run.
"It's bittersweet. For me on a personal note it's pretty disappointing – I came here to try and compete for the win, and through a few different things I couldn't do that. But at the same time I'm so happy for Yogi. You seem him year after year just commit to the team. He's one of my best mates, so to see him finish on the podium, I'm over the moon for him.
"He's got a pretty big set of balls," he added, bringing up memories of Tom Boonen's comments at the Etixx-QuickStep pre-race press conference, in which he said "big balls" were more important than tactics.
"He [Stannard] will always put it on the line, he'll always race for the win. He wouldn't have raced for podium, for top five, he always races for the win, and by the sounds of it he did that, so chapeau."
Close but no cigar
It's undeniable that Rowe has enjoyed his finest season to date as a professional, and has continued the steady progress he has made in the last few years.
After something of a breakthrough eighth place at Roubaix last year, the Welshman kicked off this Classics season by sparking the crucial move at Het Nieuwsblad, spending the day with Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet and Tiesj Benoot before finishing fourth. A month or so later he rode to fifth at the Tour of Flanders – his highest finish in a Monument.
Despite feeling disappointed not to have bagged a big win or podium place, Rowe has cemented his position as a top Classics rider this spring and is already starting to get excited about what lies in store next year.
"Close but no cigar kind of sums up the campaign. I've been knocking on the door for quite a few of them but haven't got a podium, haven't quite reached the top," he said.
"Certainly year on year, certainly if you look at last year compared to this year, it's pretty promising. I'm already thinking about next year and Paris-Roubaix. It's my favourite race of the year – I absolutely love it.
"So the focus has already switched to this time next year and I'm gunning for it. Hopefully come back, have a good run, and try and win it."
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