Greg Van Avermaet wins scorching Paris-Roubaix

Belgian rider battles to take first Monument victory of his career

Despite having to change bikes after a crash and mechanical problems, BMC Racing Team rider Greg van Avermaet fought back into contention, overcame rivals and cobbles alike before sprinting across the legendary Roubaix Velodrome finish line first on Sunday to win the 115th edition of the Hell of the North.

The in-form 31-year-old built on his gritty second place in the Tour of Flanders a week earlier but had to struggle to the last, only outsprinting Zdeněk Štybar into second place and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac) into third over the last few metres. Completing the top five were Jasper Stuyven in fourth, and Team Sky’s Gianni Moscon (fi’zi:k Arione VS).

Often spring brings mud and slippery mayhem to Paris-Roubaix’s brutal cobbles but this year’s unseasonably hot weather brought dusty, fast racing. Indeed, Van Avermaet’s finishing time of 5 hours, 41 minutes and seven seconds was a new record, with a tail-wind-assisted average speed of 45.204 km/h over the 257 km.

Despite the lack of mud, the pavé sections proved as selective as usual in this gloriously wicked Queen of the Classics, with crashes and punctures setting back the likes of last year’s winner Mathew Hayman and World Champion Peter Sagan. Van Avermaet himself had to claw back from a crash that forced him to change bikes.

The most significant attack was the second from BMC’s Daniel Oss (R3B shoes) over the Templeneuve cobbles with 30 km to go. Oss’ surge left four times Paris-Roubaix winner Tom Boonen 30 seconds adrift of a chasing bunch, which included Van Avermaet, after which Boonen never really had a hope of securing his fifth win on his last day of professional bike racing.

Inside the final 20 km, on the Carrefour de L’Arbre cobbles, Van Avermaet put down the hammer, with Štybar and Langeveld in tow, stretching out a 45-second lead over the chasers.

Into the Velodrome to finish Štybar rode up the banking, playing a game of ‘you go first’ with his rivals – a tactic that almost cost him his podium place as Moscon and Stuyven caught up with 300m to go.

Seeing his chance Moscon attacked and Štybar launched his own sprint, inadvertently leading out Van Avermaet and delivering him to his thoroughly deserved and dogged first Monument victory.