The Hell of the North, the Queen of the Classics, A Sunday in Hell; Paris – Roubaix is a race with many nicknames, and is one of the most famous races on the calendar, revered by fans and riders alike. Rolling out from the start line in Compiègne this Sunday morning a challenging 256 kilometres lay ahead of the peloton with 29 cobbled sectors of roads, totalling almost 55 kilometres of bone-shaking action.
With a tailwind from the flag drop it was an incredibly fast start as the peloton rolled attacks, looking to form the break of the day. Team DSM were active in trying to make the move, with debutant Tobias Lund Andresen particularly active, and Tim Naberman, Sam Welsford, Alberto Dainese, Pavel Bittner and Nils Eekhoff all making groups that were brought back. Eventually after 80 kilometres of action a four rider break went clear and despite Eekhoff’s best attempts to bridge in a counter attack, he returned to the bunch on the first cobbled section.
Working well as a group in the peloton, the usual chaos of Paris-Roubaix unfolded with crashes and splits throughout the bunch, but the team looked after finisher John Degenkolb well, helping to keep him out of trouble and towards the front ahead of every sector. On Haveluy à Waller with over 100 kilometres to go, one of the pre-race favourites Van Aert put in an attack and dragged a group clear, with Degenkolb riding brilliantly and locked into his wheel. Their group worked well together initially before a slight pause in pace once they caught the remnants of the original breakaway allowed some other riders to bridge. However, heading into the final 60 kilometres Degenkolb’s leading group of 11 held onto a one minute and ten second advantage over a group of chasers.
As the number of cobbled sectors ticked down, so did the numbers in the front and heading into the final 40 kilometres just seven riders remained at the head of the race with Degenkolb riding brilliantly to be there for Team DSM. The gap to those behind expanded and heading into the deep finale it was clear someone from the group of seven would lift the famous cobblestone trophy. Moving up well, Degenkolb was in second wheel heading into the challenging Carrefour de l’Arbre sector but disaster struck after he unfortunately ended up crashing into the spectators at the side of the road after the space in front of him disappeared.
Stunned and shocked, after a quick check he mounted his spare bike and gave his all to chase back but the gap was already too big to those ahead. Arriving in the Roubaix velodrome solo, Degenkolb was greeted to a rapturous round of applause from the thousands of fans, as he crossed the line for a bittersweet but valiant seventh place finish; after an heroic effort on the cobbles.