Blazin' Saddles

Bone-jangling day at the Paris-Roubaix: Eight talking points

Blazin' Saddles

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Sunday's 102th edition of Paris-Roubaix saw Dutchman Niki Terpstra take a well deserved victory after a truly enthralling six hours of racing on the cobbled farm tracks of northern France.

Our cycling blogger Blazin' Saddles takes a look at what we learned from a bone-jangling day in the saddle...

Omega Pharma's strength in depth is second to none

Winless in the first two Monuments of the season, the Belgian team fluffed their lines at both Milan-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders: despite being there in the finale, Mark Cavendish and Zdenek Stybar couldn't spring onto the podium in Italy while, somehow, OPQS contrived to place three men in the top 10 at Flanders without a single man in a 'medal' position.

But this time Patrick Lefevere's men made their numerical advantage and sheer physicality count - throwing Tom Boonen in an early attack before clustering the final select group of 11 elite riders. With Boonen and Stybar lingering with intent, it was Niki Terpstra who pulled clear with 6km remaining. Finally the drought had ended.

Terpstra bookends Omega's barren patch with his third place in last year's Paris-Roubaix now upgraded to an outright victory. In 2012, the Dutchman finished fifth - making his win on Sunday the logical result in terms of his steady progression.

Anything less than victory for OPQS in Roubaix would have been catastrophic for a team whose success is measured in their annual performances in the spring classics. Having served their fans burnt crusts and unctuous margarine for a year, Terpstra ensured that a creamy and delicious bread and butter pudding was back on the menu.

Cancellara still classy in defeat

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If Fabian Cancellara were a weathervane he'd probably still spin into the direction of the wind. With a 12th successive podium finish in completed Monuments, the Swiss maestro is a true 'clasicomano' if ever there was one. Odds-on favourite to become the first man in history to secure a triple Flanders-Roubaix double, Cancellara's race was hampered by ill fortune and circumstance - but he still managed to salvage some pride after 257 brutal kilometres.

Isolated after the latest implosion of his Trek Factory Racing team, Spartacus may have lacked the strength this time to shrug off the multiple numerical advantages of his rivals in the finale. But sprinting for the lower podium positions in group containing both John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan, Cancellara nevertheless did enough to take third place and keep his extraordinary sequence going.

Wiggins could yet win Paris-Roubaix one day

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Those who baulked at Bradley Wiggins' desire to ride a competitive 'Hell of the North' were left to eat their dust-covered words on Sunday. The Briton may have admitted he had a "tinge of disappointment" after the race, but his ninth-place finish matched that of Greg LeMond in 1992 - the last Grand Tour winner to take part in Paris-Roubaix.

Bulking up accompanied by a reborn passion for cycling - and in particular the spring classics - means Wiggins is an entirely different proposition than the tormented figure of 2013. He may have grown a beard and put on some extra pounds, but he's hardly Henry VIII on two wheels, and there's no reason to believe that the dawn of Wiggo's career cannot see the Londoner add more arrows to his bow and results to his palmares.

Having vowed to return to the cobbles with more confidence and determination, Wiggins should be a real threat next year. And with Sky now forming a classics team of real clout around the figures of Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Wiggins, the next few years could well see Dave Brailsford's men have as strong effect on the Classics as they have had on the Tour.

Five unlikely for Boonen as a new era dawns

Tom Boonen attacked ahead of the Orchies cobbled sector around 65km from the finish - from almost the same place where he launched his 2012 victory. But when the Belgian powerhouse found himself in the leading group alongside the likes of Thor Hushovd and Geraint Thomas, he spent most of the time whinging about the break's lowly work ethic.

The Boonen of old would not have even deigned to acknowledge the mere presence of his fellow escapees - let alone solicit their help in making the break stick. But battling into a fierce headwind, and riding on the back of a spring season hampered by personal issues and patchy form, Boonen needed help if he was going to become the first man in history to have five cobblestones adorning his mantlepiece.

Perhaps we are witnessing a changing of the guard over the cobbles of northern France, with a rider not called Boonen or Cancellara winning for only the second time since 2007. John Degenkolb, just 25, was mighty impressive en route to his second place, while the likes of Peter Sagan, Sep Vanmarcke and Geraint Thomas - all relative spring chickens - all impressed.

In fact, given the performances of both Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar, Boonen may no longer even be Omega Pharma's protected leader when battle recommences in 2015.

Leave the bunny hopping to Peter Sagan

Shortly after he extricated himself from the main pack in pursuit of the leading Boonen group inside the final 35km, Peter Sagan overshot a bend and was forced to bunny hop from the gutter back onto the cobbles. We're used to seeing such adept bike skills from the Slovakian tyro, who recently jumped over some road furniture in order to enter a roundabout at a more favourable angle in Oman, a move which set up a stage victory moments later.

If Sagan can be praised for such ingenuity then the same cannot be said for Trek's Hayden Roulston, who, 82km from the finish - and just moments after the gruelling Arenberg Forest section of cobbles - was caught in two minds when riding in the gutter of a road.

Trying to bunny hop onto the kerb, the New Zealander changed his mind at the last moment and landed in a pile of grit on the side of the road, before losing his grip, coming off his bike and taking out half his team-mates in the process. Team leader Fabian Cancellara did not hit the deck, but he was held up by the crash and later needed to change his bike.

It was hardly the best preparation for the business end of the race - and no doubt Roulston felt rather sheepish in the team hotel that night.

Sagan won't win a Monument if he stays at Cannondale

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It's easy to forget that Peter Sagan is only 24 years of age given the extraordinary amounts of theoretical bum pinches he's notched since bursting onto the scene in 2010. Last year, runner-up spots in San Remo and Flanders promised bigger and better things but Sagan failed to make a podium in any of the opening three Monuments of the season this spring after being left isolated by his team-mates on every occasion.

There once was a time when Cannondale - then Liquigas - were the most exciting team in the peloton, with the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Roman Kreuziger and Sagan all coming through simultaneously alongside Daniel Oss and Eros Capecchi. All of those riders, bar Sagan, have moved on now - and you sense that until Sagan rides in a team entirely built around him, then his attempts to win a Monument single-handedly will always come up short.

It's no surprise that Sagan is hotly tipped to join the new cycling team set up by Fernando Alonso. With the right roster around him, who knows what lofty heights Sagan could reach? After all, Cancellara was only 25 when he won his first Paris-Roubaix…

Still no bonheur or dolce vita for France and Italy

Arnaud Demare defied numerous punctures to secure France's best place finish on Sunday, the FDJ youngster winning the sprint for 12th place in the velodrome.

The public were not treated to live images of John Degenkolb outsprinting Fabian Cancellara for second place, but instead the host nation's strongest rider scrapping for pride. The last Frenchman to win a Monument was Laurent Jalabert in Lombardy in 1997 - the same year that Frederic Guesdon did win a meaningful bunch sprint in the Roubaix velodrome to secure a memorable home win.

Still, we mustn't forget Sebastien Turgot's second place in 2012 or Damien Gaudin's fifth place last year - even if the most notable episode from a Frenchman in Sunday's race (discounting the old man who almost took out Tom Boonen while waving a Tricolor flag) was Demare's FDJ team-mate David Boucher, who was caught cursing to the race commissaires after being caught up at a rail crossing while trying to return to the leading group after an untimely puncture.

Still, things could be worse: the French could be Italian. While the likes of Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego have both won Monuments as near as six years ago, Italy's best-placed rider on Sunday was Filippo Pozzato in 50th place, almost seven minutes behind the winning time of Niki Terpstra. Mama mia!

It looked hellish but one Spaniard still wished he was there

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There's a catalogue of reasons why Grand Tour contenders tend to stay away from the 'Hell of the North' - dust, broken bones, limb-jangling cobbles, gutter smashes and steaming piles of horse manure just a handful on the long list.

But one day after the hard men of the peloton took on around 50km of cobbled roads, Alberto Contador headed to Compeigne - the start town of the Queen of the Classics - to ride over some of those same narrow farm tracks that played host to one of the most exciting Paris-Roubaix races in recent years.

Contador was, of course, on a training mission to recon some of the roads set to be used in stage five of the Tour de France this July. In a rich vein of form so far this season, Contador will hope to fare better on the cobbles than when the Tour came to town in 2010: the Spaniard finished in a group one minute behind the leaders after picking up a puncture.

Blazin' Saddles doffs his cap to any professional rider who can watch the chaos of Paris-Roubaix on TV before deciding to run the gauntlet themselves less than 24 hours later. Bravo, Alberto.

By Blazin' Saddles - on Twitter @saddleblaze

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