Paris-Roubaix winner Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge) was probably the smartest rider in the lead group of five that came to the line in a sprint but Belgian rider Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) was probably the strongest rider on the cobbles.
The 27-year-old rode away from his four remaining rivals on the often decisive Carrefour de l'Arbre pavé sector but he was reeled back in on the asphalted roads leading to the vélodrome in Roubaix. In the sprint, Vanmarcke had nothing left to fight up against Hayman, Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) and Ian Stannard (Sky), finishing just off the podium.
"I'd love to win but I received a blow when I was caught back after the Carrefour de l'Arbre. I certainly hoped for the podium," Vanmarcke said, while still standing inside the vélodrome. "I'm always really close. I think I showed that I'm made for these races, together with the Ronde. I believe that I can win it in the future. I think every year I've got the chance to win it. That's the case for a few years now. I've got to keep trying until it works out.
"One day luck will be on my side."
The race unfolded nearly in a perfect way for Vanmarcke. The Etixx-QuickStep team created a split before reaching the Trouée Arenberg. Pre-race favourites Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) missed the cut and never managed to get back to the front.
"Just before the [Arenberg] forest there was already a split and we were there. It was an ideal situation to be up front that early with six riders from our team. It was perfect," Vanmarcke said.
A little later he was forced to chase anyway.
"Due to the wind [Maarten] Tjallingii moved sideways and I was on his left side and went off the road. It cost energy to come back. From there it all went perfectly. I had a flat tyre and Tom Van Asbroeck had to sacrifice himself. We didn't want Sagan and Cancellara to come back. That cost a lot of energy, which might have lacked me in the finale."
At 17 kilometres from the finish Vanmarcke went all in with a fierce acceleration at the Carrefour de l'Arbre. Boonen failed to hold his wheel and slowly Vanmarcke seemed to be on his way to his first big Classics win.
"I rode away on the Carrefour de l'Arbre. I already used a lot of energy but if you don't try it there you shouldn't try it anywhere. I managed to get about ten seconds. When I was up the road I thought I was gone. I was going fast but the men behind me were no pancakes. I was the strongest on the cobbles but if they co-operate then apparently I didn't stand a chance with the tailwind. Maybe I lack the age, the toughness to add one more gear at that moment, to keep going. There's still time."
Late in the race all riders in the breakaway group tried to get away. "In the final kilometres everybody was on their limit. You had to gamble but there wasn't anything to let go," Vanmarcke said.
Still Boonen managed to sneak away in the final kilometres and only Hayman could bridge up. "I was in a lost position with two kilometres to go but I figured that I could close the gap. I hoped to go better in the sprint. I managed to bridge up when entering the vélodrome but I wasn't recovered. The only mistake I made was standing on the pedals. Then I felt that I didn't have anything left. That's a pity."
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