This is a reprint of an article I wrote for US Pro Cycling News.
Its happened again; the 2011 season brought us another amazing race. This year’s edition of Paris-Roubaix saw Garmin-Cervélo take a win it dearly needed, as this newly formed team had yet to take any big wins. However, the win came from an unexpected rider- instead of a big name rider, it was Johan Van Summeren, a 30 year old super domestique with only 4 wins to his name, who took a solo win in the Roubaix velodrome. Crashes, bickering, and a well timed attack allowed Van Summeren to get away with 15km to go.
A break wasn’t able to establish itself until after 100km. The initial group of eight included David Boucher (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Martin Elmiger (AG2R), Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun), Maarten Tjalingii (Rabobank), Mitchell Docker (Skil-Shimano), Nelson Oliveira (Radioshack), David Veilleux (Europcar), and Timon Seubert (Netapp) were eventually joined by Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Koen de Kort (Skil-Shimano), and Gorazd Stangelj (Astana). After Oliverira dropped back to the peloton, the group of 10 were only allowed 2:40 with 100km to go.
The Arenberg Trench
As the Arenberg forest section of cobbles approached, the peloton increased the speed as it jostled for a good position going into the Trench. This caused the gap to go down and crashes to happen. Henrich Haussler and Roger Hammond, both of Garmin-Cervelo, were the main casualties, with Haussler abandoning and Hammond going to the hospital.
It was in the Arenberg forest where Tom Boonen’s troubles started. Of all the favorites, Tom Boonen surely had the worst time at Paris-Roubaix. First he had a mechanical that left him stranded in the Arenberg without a team car in sight. After he chased back to the group, he was caught in crash which reduced his chances of a good finish to zero. He eventually quit the race, despite urgings from his team DS. Tom Boonen wasn’t the only Quick Step member who had a rough time. His teammate Sylvian Chavenal earned the respect of many when, after a crash and a flat, he not only got back to the group, but finished the race.
As the peloton left the Trench, a chase group of seven followed the leaders. This group included Lars Boom (Rabobank), Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervelo), Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Loto), Baden Cooke (Saxo Bank-Sungard), Lars Bak (HTC-Highroad), Matthew Haymen (Sky), Manuel Quinziato (BMC) and Frederic Guesdon (FDJ). This group was able to bridge over the 10 leaders, bringing the lead group up to 17. But the lead group wasn’t done growing. Soon after the Arenberg cobbles, an attack by John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad), Gregory Rast (Radioshack), Tom Leezer (Rabobank) and Gabriel Rasch (Garmin-Cervelo) allowed them to bridge to the lead group as well.
By this point, there were 21 leaders in the front, the favorites (Fabian Cancellara, Alessandro Ballan, Thor Hushovd, and Juan Antonia Flecha) were at the front of the peloton, and 10 cobbled sections to go.
Right before the cobbles at Mons-en-Pévèle, 50km from the finish, all hell broke loose.
The Action Heats Up
It was at this time when Cancellara attacked, hoping for a repeat performance of last year’s race where he time trialed alone into the velodrome. This was not to be, as Hushovd, Flecha, and Ballan were all able to mark his wheel. Despite another attack two cobbled sections later, Cancellara was only able to drop Flecha- Hushovd and Ballan held tight. At the same time, a flurry of attacks were happening in the lead group, causing riders to drop, reducing it to 16 riders. In the chase group behind, there was no cooperation to be had, as both Hushovd and Ballan had teammates in the lead group and Cancellara was not interested in a repeat of the Tour of Flanders, were he towed Chavenal to the line. This squabbling in the chase group allowed the lead group to gain another minute.
Up in the lead group, Bak attacked at the Camphin-en-Pévèle cobbles. Only Rast, Tjallingii and Van Summeren were able to go with him.
With 15km to go, Cancellara decided to try his luck again with another attack. Hushovd was not to be denied and stuck on his wheel again. The two made it up to what was left of the lead group, with Cancellara still not able to shake Hushovd.
While Cancellara was attacking, so was Van Summeren, from the lead group of 4. The only one who was able to follow was Tjallingii, but not for long. Soon, Van Summeren was on his own, riding his heart out to make it to the velodrome first.
A Final Attack
Back in the chasing group, Cancellara was not interested in giving up and attacked one last time. This time he was able to go at alone, as Hushovd was caught behind some other riders and not able to grab Cancellara’s wheel as he powered away.
Try as he might, he was only able to catch Tjallingii, Bak and Rast. Despite riding the last 5km on a flat, Van Summeren was able to solo to victory in the velodrome. Cancellara sprinted for second with Tjallingii and Rast, 19 seconds after Van Summeren crossed the line and came in just ahead of Tjallingii.
And thus, another edition of Paris-Roubaix came to a close.