Philippe Gilbert of Deceuninck-Quick Step has won the 2019 Paris-Roubaix.  The Belgian added to his list of monument victories by getting the better of Nils Politt in the finish at the velodrome with Yves Lampaert completing a fantastic day for the wolf pack.

The 257km of racing between Compiegne and Roubaix got underway in typical electric fashion as several attacks tried and failed to go clear.  Early moves were made by the likes of Dmitriy Gruzdev and Magnus Cort of Astana, and Mads Pedersen of Trek-Segafredo but nothing could establish itself in part because of the eagerness shown by so many teams who knew that being able to make the breakaway at this race provided a much greater chance of victory than at just about any other race.  The first hour of racing was tackled in over 44kph and into a headwind, and with just over 50km covered the race was still all together.  No one team had control of the peloton as they raced towards the first sector of cobbles with 160km to go.

None of the early moves could gain any advantage in excess of about 30 seconds on the run in to the first cobbles, but as the riders came towards the first sector of pave a large group containing Nils Politt of Katusha-Alpecin, Matteo Trentin of Mitchelton-SCOTT and Yves Lampaert of Deceuninck-Quick Step went up the road in pursuit of the leaders that included Michael Schar of CCC Team.  Team Sky and Bahrain Merida moved towards the front of the peloton, with them being among the teams to miss out on the break with 5km to go to Troisvilles a Inchy; sector 29.

At the first sector the breakaway had a lead of 28 seconds over the peloton as they navigated the two-star sector.  The Politt, Lampaert, Trentin group were just a small handful of seconds behind but between sectors 29 and 28 the two groups united to form a large break that had 48 seconds in hand with 155km to go.  In the move were the likes of Maciej Bodnar of BORA-Hansgrohe, Alexis Gougeard of AG2R La Mondiale, Politt and his teammate Marco Haller, Yves Lampaert and Tim Declercq of Deceuninck-Quick Step, Adrien Petit and Damien Gaudin of Direct Energie, Frederik Frison of Lotto Soudal, Pascal Eenkhoorn of Jumbo-Visma, Bert Van Lerberghe of Cofidis, Davide Ballerini of Astana, Jorge Arcas of Movistar, Frederik Backaert of Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg of Dimension Data, Kris Boeckmans of Vital Concept-B&B Hotels and Matti Breschel of EF Education First in a breakaway that totalled 23 riders.

It was a day of literally highs and lows for Wout Van Aert who crashed and stopped for mechanicals twice, photo Sirotti

By the time sector 28 was reached, the break’s lead stood at 44 seconds and that advantage grew heading over to sector 26 although for Matteo Trentin his contention for victory quickly came to an end with a mechanical that saw him drop from among the leaders in the break to being on the back of the peloton.  The bunch were being pulled along by Marcel Sieberg of Bahrain Merida and Team Sky just behind them, with Jumbo-Visma injecting a sharp turn of pace that cut a handful of seconds out of the break’s lead.  That gap continued to drop although as it did the bunch strung right out to breaking point.  The break were resilient though and headed towards sector 23 with the lead while back down the road Robert Stannard was the unfortunate victim of a crash with about 124km to go.  He would get back up and running though.

Bahrain Merida continued to lead the peloton that finally caught the peloton with 122km remaining.  Another crash brought disruption to Edvald Boasson Hagen and Peter Sagan but they were back up and running just before the next sector.  

The next big move to go featured a group that had some 40 riders involved.  A number of big names were in the move but not Peter Sagan, whose BORA-Hansgrohe teammates were forced to chase.  Greg Van Avermaet of CCC Team, Philippe Gilbert of Deceuninck-Quick Step were among those in the move that had just a slender 20 second lead with 108km to go.  The break’s lead was finally neutralised with 104km to go although CCC Team were happy to keep their riders front and centre of the race.

On the run in to Arenberg it was all to play for as AG2R La Mondiale and Trek-Segafredo took the lead in the peloton.  At 95km to go Greg Van Avermaet led the way onto the most feared sector of cobbles and put the hammer down as the peloton strung right out.  Peter Sagan had a little trouble trying to get past Wout Van Aert who swerved off the road with a mechanical issue that demanded a bike change.  Sagan was able to stay in contention, but Van Aert dropped 45 seconds on the contenders.  Stijn Vandenbergh of AG2R La Mondiale was the strongest through the sector and actually ended up as the solo leader in the race for a short while as the race reached 91km to go.  The Belgian had a 9 second lead over the peloton with Van Aert still 40 seconds behind.

Coming out of the Arenberg was the herald for another flurry of attacks as Groupama-FDJ came to the fore in the bunch.  Van Aert was back on with the peloton with 86km to go but then he suffered another mechanical that once again forced him to chase solo; and then he crashed while in pursuit of the peloton.  And yet once again the cyclocross star found his way back into the bunch.

Nils Politt leads Philippe Gilbert around the velodrome, photo Sirotti

A small group of four riders broke clear next and had a small handful of seconds before being brought back and it was on sector 15 that Peter Sagan really began to show himself at the front of the race, beginning to put the hammer down.  Wesley Kreder of Wanty-Groupe Gobert rode off the front of the race and with 68km to go had a 12 second advantage.  He was joined by Nils Politt, Rudiger Selig of BORA-Hansgrohe and Philippe Gilbert of Deceuinck-Quick Step.

This time Trek-Segafredo marshalled at the front of the race with Luke Rowe also present, and the quartet hit sector 14 with a 17 second lead.  That lead grew to 23 seconds as the group became a trio with Politt and Gilbert forced to do the work for the break while Selig was really just there for Sagan.  Selig fell back, however, with 53km to go as Gilbert and Politt showed themselves to be too strong.  Sagan was also too strong for his bunch, attacking in the company of Wout Van Aert, Sep Vanmarcke, Yves Lampaert, Christophe Laporte of Cofiis and Marc Sarreau of Groupama-FDJ.  By the time the race hit sector 11 the two groups had merged at the front and it was looking like the race had possibly seen its deciding move go clear.

With 45km to go the leading group had an advantage touching 40 seconds and they were functioning very effectively together.  That lead gradually grew as Greg Van Avermaet desperately tried to do damage control but to no avail.  With 38km to go Gilbert, Vanmarcke, Sagan, Lampaert, Politt and Van Aert continued to lead with a lead of 1.05mins.  With 30km to go the composition of the leading group remained and their advantage was still at 1 minute.  On sector 7 Gilbert led the way over the cobbles, a foretaste of his strength to come as with 23km to go he launched a big attack that brought with him Peter Sagan and Nils Politt.

Wout Van Aert was forced to chase as a small but distinct gap opened up.  Behind the trio Yves Lampaert wasn’t going to aide the chase with Gilbert ahead and steadily it began to look like the race was getting away from Van Aert and Vanmarcke.  Over sector 5 Lampaert was able to bridge across as the break’s lead over the peloton grew to 1.13mins.  On sector 4, the final 5-star sector of the day, it began to look like Politt and Gilbert were dropping back as they hung on at the back of the break.  Lampaert had the lead of the break while Van Avermaet continued to have the lead of the peloton.

With 16km to go Gilbert made his next big move and was pursued by Sagan.  This time it was Lampaert who looked like he was dropped with Vanmarcke and Politt having to dig deep and chase back to them.  Then with 14km to go Gilbert attacked again, this time in the company of Politt and finally there was no response from Sagan who could only watch.  With 10km to go it was firmly advantage Deceuninck-Quick Step with Lampaert all but guaranteed third place as he could sit back on the wheels of Vanmarcke and Sagan ready for the finishing sprint.

Yves Lampaert, Philippe Gilbert and Nils Politt on the podium, photo Sirotti

Gilbert and Politt were in a strong position out in front, although Politt was surely the more fatigued of the two after his exploits from early in the day.  Still, the duo worked very effectively together as they extended their lead to 35 seconds onto sector 2.  Gilbert looked visibly stronger, setting the tempo all the way through as Politt gritted his teeth, but the penultimate challenge was out the way, now it was just the final short sector into the Roubaix velodrome to come.  

Behind the leaders Sagan began to show the first signs of fatigue himself, hanging on through sector 2 but then finally being dropped with just over 5km to go.  Gilbert and Politt were 42 seconds clear with 5km to go and were destined for 1st and 2nd place.  Politt nervously looked over his shoulder as he took his turns at the front; sensing that Gilbert had one last attack in him.  But no attack came and the duo arrived at sector 1 with 1.4km to go together.  Their lead had dropped to 25 seconds but it would still be enough to take one of them to victory.

Politt led the duo onto the velodrome to rapturous applause as Lampaert, who’d dropped Vanmarcke as well, closed in towards the leaders.  Politt hugged the top of the boards, while Gilbert simply played poker until just under half a lap to go where he took off on the under side of the track and came through to take a fantastic victory.  Lampaert came home third with fist pumping in celebration while Sagan didn’t contest the sprint for fourth, taking 5th place behind Vanmarcke.  Florian Senechal and Zenek Stybar made it four riders in the top ten with 6th and 8th respectively, while Mike Teunissen took 7th, Evaldas Siskevicius 9th and Sebastian Langeveld 10th.

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