John Degenkolb became only the third man to complete a Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix double in the same year with his victory in the north of France on Sunday.
Degenkolb, who was second in the Hell of the North race last year, beat Czech Zdenek Stybar and Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium in a seven-man sprint finish in the outdoor velodrome in Roubaix.
Irishman Sean Kelly in 1986 and Belgium’s Cyrille van Hauwaert back in 1908 were the only other riders to claim those two Spring Classic races in the same year.
But there was an air of inevitability about Degenkolb’s win once the 26-year-old arrived in the velodrome as part of a seven-man leading group.
Last year, Degenkolb had easily taken a sprint finish for second place behind breakaway winner Niki Terpstra.
He was one of two riders, alongside last weekend’s Tour of Flanders victor Alexander Kristoff, who every other rider was keen to drop before the finish.
But while Norwegian Kristoff, who was second to Degenkolb in San Remo having won it last year, struggled to keep up once the decisive move was made and limped in 10th, the German showed great determination to stay at the front right to the end.
Van Avermaet and fellow Belgian Yves Lampaert broke clear 11km from the end and built up a lead of 10 seconds but Degenkolb chased them down alone.
The two Belgians let Degenkolb lead the way but were caught by four more riders in the final 3km.
At this point it seemed highly unlikely that anyone could beat Degenkolb and true to form, despite Stybar launching out for home first, the German passed him with aplomb and took the victory with ease.
Dutchman Lars Boom, who won last year’s Tour de France stage that covered some of the Paris-Roubaix cobbles, finished fourth with Swiss Martin Elmiger fifth.
In his last road race before leaving Team Sky and returning to the track ahead of next year’s Rio Games, reigning Olympic and world timetrial champion Bradley Wiggins finished 18th, in a group 31sec behind.
Last year’s winner Niki Terpstra was 15th in that same group, which was headed by Kristoff.
– fast start –
After a fast start to proceedings that saw the riders cover more than 50km in the first hour, the 253km race was animated by a nine-man breakaway that formed around the 30km mark.
Inside the first 100km the race lost one of the favourites as two-time Flanders winner Stijn Devolder crashed out.
He was followed by Wiggins’s teammate Geraint Thomas, who went down hard just after the tough Arenberg cobbled section — one of 27 such sectors covering almost 53km.
Thomas never made it back to the rapidly thinning peloton as the Etixx-Quick Step team of Stybar and Terpstra upped the pace.
There was brief drama when a barrier at a railway crossing came down as the peloton was passing under it.
One rider was clipped by a barrier and several more crossed after it was down, but by the time a TGV train passed, the remaining riders had been brought to a halt by a vigilant police motorcycle.
Five of the original nine escapees survived until about 25km left with Frenchman Alexis Gougeard the last to succumb at the 21km to go marker.
By then the race was really on and Wiggins had tried his luck to go alone 33km from the finish but three riders joined him and all were brought back around the time the breakaway was caught.
Several other favourites including Belgians Sep Vanmarcke, who finished 11th, and Jurgen Roelandts, who came home 21st, tried to strike out alone but their attacks were short-lived.
The unheralded Lampaert made the decisive move and only Van Avermaet could join him.
Degenkolb sensed the danger and launched a counter-attack, quickly closing the gap.
Once he was part of a small leading group, Degenkolb appeared a near certain victor and Van Avermaet, so often a bridesmaid in these major races, was left in tears at the end after yet another near miss. – Agence France-Presse