It wasn’t exactly shocking to see a cyclist break away on the penultimate section of cobbles in the 112th running of the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic on Sunday. What was interesting was that it wasn’t defending champion Fabian Cancellara, the former world time-trial champion famous for using his skills to solo to victories in the biggest monument classics, but one of Patrick Lefevere’s riders at Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
And given Lefevere’s track record in these races, it wasn’t shocking to see an Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider hoisting the cobblestone trophy awarded to the winner of Paris-Roubaix. It marked the 12th time since 1995 that a rider managed by Lefevere had emerged victorious after the 259-kilometer run from Compiegne. What was interesting, though, was that it was not four-time champion Tom Boonen doing the hoisting but one of his lieutenants on the squad.
On a day when Cancellara and Boonen were striving to make history, it was neither the Swiss nor Belgian champions but Dutch domestique Niki Terpstra who came up biggest on one of the hardest courses in professional racing. Once the final selection of riders had consolidated at the front of the peloton, it looked for much of the time as though Paris-Roubaix might see a rare bunch sprint for the title in the Roubaix velodrome. Instead, breaking away into a headwind seven kilometers from the finishing line in Roubaix velodrome, Terpstra opened a gap on the elite group at the head of the race and held off the advances of the favorites to solo to victory by 19 seconds.
The remaining contenders in the lead group were forced to contest the finishing sprint not for victory but for the consolation of second place. Terpstra had broken away from a group that contained not just Boonen and Cancellara but also 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins, former Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix podium finisher Sep Vanmarcke, two-time defending Tour de France green jersey winner Peter Sagan, and a handful of other strong challengers.
Boonen, the victory already conceded to his teammate, sat back and coasted across the line in 10th place. Ahead of him, Cancellara made a concerted effort to finish on the podium despite losing out on the chance to become the first cyclist in history to repeat the Flanders/Roubaix double two years in a row. He would eventually have to settle for third, as Gent-Wevengem champion John Degenkolb pipped the Swiss star at the line to take runner-up honors.
By that point the Dutch fans in the Roubaix velodrome had already started going nuts, as Terpstra’s victory marked the first time a rider from the Netherlands had won the venerable race since another Lefevere rider, Servais Knaven, took the title in 2001 as a member of Domo-Farm Frites. As a result, Terpstra became just the sixth Dutchman to win Paris-Roubaix in the race’s long history.
“It’s been a while for the Dutch people,” said Terpstra after the victory. “Servais was a teammate of mine on Milram. I learnt a lot from here when we rode Paris-Roubaix together five years ago. I’m happy to close this gap of Dutch wins, it’s (been) too long. Since I was a little child and I started cycling, Paris-Roubaix was the most special race for me. Now I’ve won it, it’s a dream come true.”
The circumstances might have been somewhat surprising, mainly since everyone had their eyes firmly glued to the duel between Tornado Tom and the Swiss Spartacus, but Terpstra was in many ways due for a breakthrough result. He has come on strong in recent years, finishing fifth in Roubaix two years ago and reaching the podium last April when he placed third behind Cancellara and Vanmarcke. The first monument classic of his career comes on the heels of an overall title at February’s Tour of Qatar and a win in the one-day Dwars door Vlaanderen in March. Already enjoying the most successful spring of his journeyman career, Terpstra inscribed his name among cycling’s legends with the solo victory.
It may not have been Boonen, but in the end the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team played its cards right and continued the run of Roubaix dominance orchestrated over the last two decades by Lefevere. “To take the win in the biggest classic of all is a dream come true,” Terpstra continued in the post-race press conference. “It’s a race that suits me well. My shape this year was really good, so I was motivated for a good result. The team was good in the end.”
TOP FIVE FINISHERS
- Niki Terpstra (NED/Omega Pharma-Quick Step) — 6:09:01
- John Degenkolb (GER/Giant-Shimano) — +0:20
- Fabian Cancellara (SUI/Trek Factory Riding) — +0:20
- Sep Vanmarcke (BEL/Belkin Pro Racing) — +0:20
- Zdenek Stybar (CZE/Omega Pharma-Quick Step) — +0:20