They were all against him and still Fabian Cancellara managed to knock them out one by one to win Paris-Roubaix for the third time after a 254.5-kms demolition race in the dust on Sunday. The Swiss, already winner in 2006 and 2010, made it three in style, scattering the peloton in the Mons-en-Pevele sector before finding himself alone with Belgium's Sep Vanmarcke in the finale. On the famous velodrome, Spartacus was not to be tamed and he outsprinted his last rival standing to raise his arms again, one week after being crowned in the Tour of Flanders. Dutch champion Niki Terpstra took third place, 31 seconds behind.
13 in the lead
While several attempts took place from the start, the most serious initial break took place at km 17 in Noyon when 13 men broke clear in the wheel of Eloy Teruel (MOV). They were Gert Steegmans (OPQ), Bjorn Thurau (EUC), Bob Jungels (RLT), Gatis Smukulis (KAT), Jacob Rathe (GRS), Jens Debuschere (LTB), Frederik Veuchelen (VCD), Michael Morkov (TST), Evaldas Siskevicius (SOJ), Guillaume Boivin (CAN), Eloy Teruel (MOV), Clement Koretzky (BSE) and Benjamin Lemontagner (BSE). Their lead remained stable at around 35 seconds at kilometer 50, a mark the race reached after an hour. Led by teams Argos, Cofidis and Netapp, the peloton kept close and reined in 11 of the original escapees after 68 kilometers, leaving only Koretzky and Veuchelen in the front. The two were caught in turn after 73 kilometers when a third Bretagne-Seche rider, Benoit Jarrier, surged in turn.
Together on the cobbles
The peloton tackled the first cobbled sector (km 98.5) together and while Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQ), Marcel Sieberg (LTB) and Bert De Backer (VCD) tried to break in that first section, the bunch regrouped in sector #25 and #24. Team Sky's Ian Stannard suffered a puncture at the worst possible time and was forced to chase behind the pack in the first four sectors. The first serious casualty at kilometer 124 was Yoann Offredo, who rode into a median strip in the middle of the road and was forced out. Shortly before sector #23, Matthew Hayman (SKY), 2007 race winner Stuart O Grady (OGE) and and the unremittable Steegmans(OPQ) and Koretzky (BSE) - already part of the fist move -broke in turn.
Cancellara raises pace
Briefly chased by Andre Greipel (LTB), the four held a 1:20 lead over the peloton in the infamous Arenberg trench. In sector #16, Steegmans and Hayman parted company with Koertzky and O'Grady while Michael Schaer (BMC) tried to bridge the gap.
In sector #15 (km 178), a crash involved Geraint Thomas (SKY), Filippo Pozzato (LAM), Borut Bozic (AST) and Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ). In sector #12 (km 190) Schaer caught Steegmans and Hayman while Damien Gaudin (EUC) broke with the peloton to try and catch the break. He did so after 204 kms only to see the peloton back into the famous sector of Mons -en-Pevele (km 205). Fabian Cancellara chose the crucial sector to raise the tempo but the Swiss essentially dropped his own team-mates and found himself isolated with 11 other rivals, including three Omega Pharma Quick Step riders.
The 12 were Zdenek Stybar (OPQ), Niki Terpstra (OPQ), Stijn Vandenbergh (OPQ), Damien Gaudin (EUC), Fabian Cancellara (RLT), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Bernhard Eisel (SKY), Lars Boom (BLA), Sep Vanmarcke (BLA), Juan Antonio Flecha (VCD), Luca Paolini (KAT) and Sebastian Langeveld (OGE).
The group split into three parts in sector #8 and Cancellara found himself in the third of those bunches until kilometer 226, when he made it back on the front on his own. At the same moment, Vandenbergh and Vanmarcke broke away. Cancellara was again forced to work to bridge the gap at the end of sector #6 when he moved behind the Belgian duo with Czech Stybar. The junction took place with 20 kms to go, leaving the Tour of Flanders winner against two Belgians and two Omega Pharma Quick Step riders.
In Le Carrefour de l'Arbre (sector #4), Vandenbergh saw his hopes ruined by a crash, leaving the way for the other three to battle it out for the podium places. His team-mate Stybar was also unfortunate as he nearly rode into a spectator and lost ground a mile later, leaving Cancellara and Vanmarcke to gear up for the final showdown. It was the usual cat and mouse game on the velodrome and the arch-favourite used his track stills better, staying in this rival's wheel to surge on the line and collect his third cobble on the podium.