Silence, wide green fields, a church tower in the distance, the gray sky above like a scar in the darker green of the trees. A cobbled street - green and gray - bordered by a slight path of white bare ground. A few late roofs emerge behinde the fields and red briks walls in a line: Beuvry-la-Forêt. Nowhere. Nobody and nothing in sight. A yellow sign on a pole: Paris-Roubaix. A weird monument with a plaque: "Secteur Marc Madiot".
Fury and crowd. A coming cloud of dust. Screaming, yelling, roaring. The break-away first than the chase then the peloton rushing and rolling, jolting and jerking, passing over like an avalanche and filling all the frame. Gnashing faces, creaking bikes, bleeding legs. Bloody wild eyes thrown forward, down on the road, up the pavé with heart and soul, love and pain.
I stay aside, all glimpse. Aghast and elated. Shot now! in a blink they are gone! riders and cars and the crowd with them: walking to the town, back to their cars and bikes, toward the finish, toward Roubaix. Silence and solitude regain the place. Contrast couldn't be any bigger.
The race goes on on the telly, on the big screan of Trek Factory Racing Fan Club's Roubaix meeting. The Aremberg Forest has not done any selection but flat tyres, mechanicals and crashes did. TFR Hayden Roulston has crashed just before sector 16, taking down a lot of riders and provoking a crucial split in the main peloton. Fabian Cancellara was caught behind. After he said that stop and chase decided his race.
It was a nervous, scattered peloton what we have seen, shaken by continous attacks. A group including Bert De Backer (Giant-Shimano), Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin), Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ.fr), Yannick Martinez (Europcar) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) had gone away and on sector 13 in Beuvry-la-Forêt Tom Boonen had bridged, just in front of me. He was chasing after a flat and looked strong. On sector 12 - in Orchies - only five riders survive his forcing: Thomas, De Backer, Martinez and Ladagnous. A new acceleration and Ladagnous get dropped. Hushovd bridges. Boonen tries to go solo but can't and from behind Peter Sagan joins and Maarten Wynants. 22km to go. Behind, in the cashing group, Sep Vanmarcke attacks with Fabian Cancellara on Camphin-en-Pévèle. They bridge. Now Sagan is solo up the road. Carrefour de l’Arbre: Vanmarcke, Cancellara, Stybar and Degenkolb close on Sagan. Terpstra, Boonen, Wiggins, Thomas and Langeveld are finally back. Incredible! A 11 riders front group heads to the final - Willems à Hem - sector of pave and they all have a chance of victory.
Niki Terpstra makes the move while the others wait. Then in the Velodrome is a bunch sprint but for the second place. A long wild scream, drool out his open mouth. Wide open eyes. The winner.
In front of the big screan, screams, ohhh and claps accompany the action. People here would like to see a win by Fabian Cancellara - it would be his 4th - but they are ready to recognise talent, guts and class. We are a mixed crowd: many come from the USA, then from France, the Neederlands, Belgium and Switzerland. We are the only Italians. The café has got a front on the road, with a Trek banner and some tables. Inside, a classic bar room with a tv showing the race and a covered stand for the fan club. We shared the lunch talking of cycling and now we share the race, hopes and desires. My son and I came back last minute from the pavé and are siting on the floor. We get excited when Sep Vanmarcke attacks: he's our favourite for today. We would like the happy end of last year drama but no. It's a bitter Roubaix again for the Belkin's Belgian, ousprinted again by Fabian Cancellara. Everybody love Niki Terpstra so we are all happy with the end. And Johan Degenkolb is a legend in the lengend: he survived to the pavé to sprint for 2nd in the first Roubaix in age decided at the bunch sprint.
Walking back to Landas' rail station - a nothing in the nothing of this wide empty land of fields and villages streched as a cover between Belgium and France - we talk about Team Sky and a challenge they definitely won. Two riders in the top ten, three in the top 15 and Boasson Hagen just out the top 20. That's great. In the hectic finale Wiggins and Thomas worked very well together. Geraint Thomas finished 7th and Bradley Wiggins 9th but they have the same time of the 2nd and 20'' to the winner. It's simply amazing.
We walk the same way we did in the morning, when we left Lille to go watching the race. Now the sun is low, still covered in gray clouds. The silence is soft and cold. We are tired and full of memories. Few later, out the window, the sun is red, sweet like a kiss in the slow coming night. I had my pavé.
"I feel happy, but really tired," Niki Terpstra said after with a laugh. "When we came together in the last cobblestone section — at the end of the cobblestones — Wilfried Peeters told us if we go for the sprint we go with Tom. But, if you can attack, it's always good to open the final. So it was up to me and Zdenek to attack and they know I like to do it. So, 20 seconds later I attacked. It was the good one. When I looked behind me I saw there was a gap, so it was just full gas to the finish line.Don't look back, because that doesn't help. They will come back anyway if you check or not. Then, when I was crossing the finish line, it was just really special. I'm so satisfied. Finally I won a big one. We had a healthy, comfortable pressure from within the team to perform. The kind that motivates us to do well. We won a lot of races but not a big one yet. We wanted to prove we can win a big one. Today we really proved we are a strong team that can also win the biggest races. As for me, two years ago I was 5th, and last year I was 3rd. If you can finish in the top 10 here you can also, with a bit of luck, win it. Last year I was really close and this year I made it. Since I was a little child and I started cycling, Paris-Roubaix was the most special race for me. Now I won it. It's a dream come true. Paris-Roubaix is a crazy race, old fashioned, but that's why it's special and why I love it that much. It was really my lucky day. I think we're going to have a nice dinner with the team tonight to celebrate this great victory, and then I will enjoy my time at home this week with my family."
What John Degenkolb said:
“I’m so proud of this result, and of the way my team rode and supported me today. This is my first podium a monument and it is such a great feeling. I had a few problems but with the help of my team I managed to fight back on and then at the end had the strength to go with the front group. Bert was really important to have there in the finale and he put me in the perfect position for the sprint. On the run in I decided to focus on the sprint rather than trying to go with Terpstra. I am still young and have time to develop more. It is such a great moment – second in Paris – Roubaix and I am just 25 years old. I cannot wait for what the future holds. I also hope that I can also motivate the younger generation of cyclists in Germany.
What Fabian Cancellara said:
“It was a special race; very tactical. Vanmarcke and I tried from the back but QuickStep did a good job. They played it well. People were expecting my attack on the cobbles, but I had 'funny' legs the whole time today. It was a hard finish, and it was tough with me being alone at the end, and other teams still had two riders. I think I had no other choice. It was normal that there was not a huge collaboration when I went away with the four others after Carrefour de l’Arbre. I tried, Vanmarcke tried, Degenkolb tried, but of course QuickStep played their cards, and with their tactics in the end, the strongest team has won. First the wind was important and probably altered the race, and then the crash with Hayden [Roulston] where I had to change the bike. But that is how it is, Roubaix is like this. I am quite tired. I am somewhat disappointed, but in the end, I have to be realistic. To still arrive on the podium, and under the circumstances that we went through today, I have to be satisfied. There was no panic when Boonen attacked. It was still far to go, and it was a lot of headwind, and still a lot of riders in the peloton. I knew that I had to wait still, and I did not have so many cards to play anymore. When there are still 20-30 riders, and with the headwind, it was not the moment to try. All in all I am proud. I was a big favorite, and that makes it more difficult. But I have finished on the podium in the last 12 Monuments, and I can say that I am happy with my spring campaign. I get measured on my wins, and not second or third, but really this is not bad. Now it is time for a nice rest."
What Sep VanMarcke said:
“I’m disappointed, my legs were perfectly fine. There could have been more in it for me, I was one of the best riders in the race. I cannot blame myself, though. The headwind and the fact that nobody wanted to race, made it hard to win. When Terpstra attacked and took a fifteen-metre lead, I knew enough. The others hesitated and I didn’t want to respond again, as I had done that a few times before. The team was very strong today. We did what we had to do and attacked at the right times. Unfortunately we weren’t rewarded.
Every race I was there, but in the end I’m standing here empty-handed. I really wanted to win that big race. Besides that, I finished just outside the top three a few times, while I had the feeling that I could have been on the podium.”
What Geraint Thomas said:
"It was frustrating that some of the riders sat on in the move. If we’d all ridden together then you never know how far we might have gone. They only really caught us on Carrefour de l’Arbre. My legs really started to go there. The rider in front of me left the wheel open and I couldn’t close it.
Then it all came back together, but I was on my knees to be honest in the last 10km. I spoke to Brad and he said he felt good. When Terpstra when I looked to commit and try to keep the gap as small as possible. Brad didn’t really have the opportunity to go in the end, so it just came down to the sprint. Against those sort of guys it’s hard enough to beat them when I’m fresh. I tried to hit them on the back straight.
It’s nice to get a top 10 again. The way I rode it wasn’t the easy way. We were out front for a lot of the time. It’s satisfying, but at the same time we wanted to get a podium. I think we’ve definitely improved as a whole over the Classics season. We’re missing (Ian) Stannard who would have been a key rider for us today."
What Bradley Wiggins said:
"There’s a tinge of disappointment because I really had the leg. Even in the final I felt strong. There was a part of it where I was pinching myself a bit – I don’t mind admitting that. It was a real honour to be there in the final. Going past Boonen on the Carrefour was something special. And then to come onto the Velodrome with the group of Cancellara and those guys – to be there was great.
I’ve got the confidence now that I can do it now and match those guys. To go top 10 I think in hindsight is a good result. There’s not many Tour de France winners that have gone top 10 in Roubaix. On a personal note it’s a nice thing.
We had G up there all day pushing. I was aware of that and I was just fighting to get into those sectors in the front. I’m just pleased that I committed to it and I didn’t bottle it. That’s a big part of what it’s all about.
When the two groups came together with 10km I attacked after that we felt a bit out-numbered and it was going to be difficult. But then Terpstra played it perfectly. To have two guys there is great. There’s been such a good spirit in the team."