An incredible Paris-Roubaix that just about had it all has seen Matthew Hayman (Orica-GreenEDGE) take a memorable victory, ahead of Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quickstep).
Hayman, who was coming back from a fractured radius and had only two days of competitive racing leading into the biggest monument of them all, pulled off an incredible ride.
The Aussie sat in the breakaway all day long, then found the skill and drive to win on the velodrome.
After 250km of action, which included multiple failed breakaways, crashes, favourites falling away and an epic fightback, Hayman used the angle of the track to hit the front and outsprint Boonen and Ian Stannard, who simply couldn’t come around at the death.
Earlier in the day, the breakaway of the day, which ended up being 16 riders, took almost 85 kilometres to establish itself. First it was a six-rider group that was pulled back, then 24, and then three others.
Eventually, the attack that stuck had the following riders out in front: Yaroslav Popovych (Trek), Yannick Martinez (Delko), Salvatore Puccio (Sky), Matthew Hayman, Magnus Cort (both Orica), Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (Dimension Data), Borut Bozic (Cofidis), Sylvain Chavanel (Direct-Energie), Marko Kump (Lampre), Johan Le Bon (FDJ), Tim DeClercq (Topsport), Frederik Backaert (Wanty Group), Imanol Ervitti (Movistar), Maxime Daniel (AG2R) and Michael Morkov (Katusha).
A large group went away in the chase, until a crash near the front before the Forest of Arenberg brought the race unstuck. Both Fabian Cancellara (Trek) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) were stuck behind, and lost a lot of ground.
They fought hard, but with Stannard (Sky), Boonen (Etixx Quickstep), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto Jumbo), Hayman (Orica), Alexsejs Saramotins (IAM), Maarten Wynants (LottoNL Jumbo) and Imanol Ervitti (Movistar) out in front, they put the hammer down and made sure the gap was well over a minute for much of the run home.
With 46km to go, and after a few crashes from Sky riders, Cancellara went down. Sagan managed to bunny hop and avoid the crash, but without the power of Cancellara the world champ was never going to chase down the leading nine riders.
On the run into the Mons-en-Pavele, the final five-star section of the day, Saramotins, Wynants, Ervitti and others were distanced, with Stannard, Hayman, Boonen, Vanmarcke and Boasson Hagen in the lead.
Vanmarcke let everything fly on Mons-en-Pavele and got a gap over the others, with Hayman left for dead after practically being run off the road. Yet the veteran somehow managed to catch back on, before the group caught Vanmarcke and five riders were again in the lead throughout the final ten kilometres.
Attack after attack went, with Stannard being particularly active, but none stuck. Boonen went with around three kilometres to go, and Hayman was the only one who could chase it down.
Heading onto the velodrome, Hayman and Boonen foxed with each other, which brought Vanmarcke back, before Stannard and Boasson Hagen came back with the bell ringing.
Hayman, as stated, went high, angled down and no one was able to outsprint him.
It was an incredible performance, with virtually no one expecting Hayman to win. He couldn’t believe it after he got off the bike, and one would suspect neither could any of the other riders in the lead group.
What a day for Australian sport and cycling, as Hayman becomes only the second Australian to win the race, after Stuart O’Grady.
1 Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge) @ 5:51:53
2 Tom Boonen (Etixx – Quick-Step) + 0:00
3 Ian Stannard (Team Sky) + 0:00
4 Sep Vanmarcke (Team LottoNl-Jumbo) + 0:00
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) +0:03
Can world champion Peter Sagan claim victory in the 2016 Paris-Roubaix or will a repeat of last week’s Tour of Flanders be stopped? Join The Roar for our live coverage of the greatest monument of them all from 6:30pm (AEDT).
The numbers of this incredible race are enough to scare anyone. 257.5 kilometres, 27 brutal sections of cobblestones over nearly 53km and over six hours in the saddle. It shows you why this is known as ‘the hell of the North’.
The route has been changed slightly from the 2015 edition, with four extra kilometres being added. It doesn’t change anything major, with a slight diversion early in the race.
The 27 sections of cobbles are rated on a difficulty of one to five stars, with 12 of the sections on course being rated three stars.
All of the five star sections will be still there, with ‘Trouee d’Arenberg’ (Forrest of Arenberg), ‘Mons-en-Pevele’ and ‘Le Carrefour de l’Arbre’.
These five-star sections are so tough, not only because of their length – all over 2 kilometres – but also their unforgiving nature. The run into those sections is like a sprint, and the cobbles are dodgy at best.
The final two of the five-star sections come within the final 50 kilometres of the race, and within 30 kilometres of each other. There is simply no time to rest in that final hour, with one section leading onto the next and really no chance for a break.
After Le Carrefour de l’Arbre though, there are only around 14 kilometres remaining, which includes two ‘two-star’ sections, and the final one-star section just before the velodrome in Roubaix.
Really, whoever is in the lead group coming off the Carrefour is going to the velodrome for the final sprint, where track experience can play a factor.
World champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) will look to back up his victory in the Tour of Flanders last weekend, but will be challenged by several riders. Fabian Cancellara (Trek) has been in strong form and has to be considered in the top group, while Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) might as well have gone out and designed the course himself.
Others to watch include Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto Jumbo), Ian Stannard (Sky), Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra and Tom Boonen (all Etixx-Quickstep) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data).
Adding to the difficulty of this already crazy race, there is a chance of rain. It has been 12 years since we have had a wet Paris-Roubaix and if you thought riding over the cobbles was difficult in the dry, try it in the wet. It would add another layer of unpredictability.
You can’t predict a race like Paris-Roubaix, there are just too many variables. I’ll go with Fabian Cancellara though.
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Follow Scott on Twitter @sk_pryde