Niki Terpstra is Belgian enough

Let’s start with the top ten. Aside from Sebastian Langeveld, you should recognise all of these names, which makes me feel like I’ve done a pretty decent job over the last few months.

  1. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-Quick-Step 6:09:01
  2. John Degenkolb’s Moustache (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano 0:00:20
  3. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing
  4. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin-Pro Cycling
  5. Zdeněk Štybar (Cze) Omega Pharma-Quick-Step
  6. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
  7. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky
  8. Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Garmin Sharp
  9. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky
  10. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick-Step

If there is another rider – other than Langeveld – who you know a bit less about, it’s actually the winner.

Niki Terpstra isn’t Belgian, but he is Dutch – which as everyone knows is the second most Belgian nationality. He also rides for Omega Pharma-Quick Step, which is a pretty Belgian thing to do. All in all, Terpstra’s far from being an unlikely winner and his profile on this site isn’t quite as low as you might think. His victory was foreshadowed when he won the Tour of Qatar back in February.

The racing

I’ll let you in on a secret about bike racing: they don’t actually race that much.

What I mean by that is that in a three-week Grand Tour, it’s not like everyone’s going hell for leather from first minute to last. It’s about rationing your effort, apportioning glycogen for the key moments. A lot of the time, you don’t really need to pay attention to the day’s events until the last 20 minutes. That’s when they really start racing.

Paris-Roubaix is not like that. Paris-Roubaix is not like that at all. In Paris-Roubaix, they race for two or three hours and they’re not exactly dawdling prior to that. It’s monumental stuff, which is perhaps why the race is considered one of the five Monuments of cycling.

The events

Traditionally, the peloton really gets hewn on the approach to and during the really bad stretch of cobbles at the Forest of Arenberg with 90-odd kilometres to go, but tactically the big move this year was from Tom Boonen with 65km to go.

I don’t know whether Boonen was really hoping to push on for the win at this point, or whether it was purely a team move, but I do know that he was pissed off. A little group formed around him, including Geraint Thomas, but none of them was really keen on doing any work. I guess when someone’s won Paris-Roubaix three times, people aren’t keen on shepherding him to the finish. Boonen wasn’t happy about this and spent a number of kilometres angrily gesticulating at people. It was a masterful display of tetchiness, but to no avail. Consequently, the group hovered within a minute of a shifting cast behind for quite some time.

A series of attacks diminished that second group. Every time a rider went off the front, the remainder responded and someone went out of the back. Sep Vanmarcke came across to the front group with Fabian Cancellara and then Peter Sagan followed shortly afterwards. Eventually, all the good riders from the second group had reached the front and all the dead weight had been shed.

This still left quite a lot of people, but Peter Sagan then attacked between two sections of pavé and was joined by Sep Vanmarcke, Fabian Cancellara, Zdenek Stybar and John Degenkolb – a serious group. They pushed on and although we didn’t really see it on the TV coverage, this presumably did for most of the riders in the group behind. There were basically six survivors, who included Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas, Niki Terpstra and Tom Boonen. They reached the front five and that was the group we had for the finish.

The finish

Niki Terpstra rode off. That’s basically what happened. With about 6km to go, he had a go and no-one followed him.

Omega Pharma had three riders in the front group of 11, so they could afford to chance their arm a bit and have riders attack. But once he’d gone, the riders from other teams pretty much just left the chasing to each other. No-one took responsibility because no-one wanted to tow Terpstra’s team-mates – Stybar and Boonen – to the finish, only to then get outsprinted by them.

Terpstra was one of several strong riders in the strongest team. That’s how he won.

Other notable performances

John Degenkolb’s moustache came second. After also winning Gent-Wevelgem, it is now officially worth watching during the classics. The moustache’s owner is only 25 and should be a major protagonist in these races for many years to come.

Bradley Wiggins’ ninth is also remarkable if only because Tour de France winners don’t ride Paris-Roubaix. Greg Lemond was the last to participate, back in 1992. Wiggins can ride the track, he can time trial, he can win Grand Tours and now, it seems, he can compete on the cobbles as well.

What’s next?

You know how I’ve spent the last six months trying to shed light on the cast for the cobbled classics; the names listed at the start of this article? You can now forget pretty much all of them. The cobbled classics are over.

Next up are the Ardennes classics. Things are still pretty Belgian, but there are no cobbles. We’re back to the defining stretches of road being described by their gradients. However, unlike the Grand Tours, these are short, steep climbs, not mountain passes.

Next Sunday is the Amstel Gold race, Wednesday is La Fleche Wallonne and then the following Sunday is the big one out of this batch of races, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. As for the cast: Grand Tour contenders will feature heavily, but also puncheurs like Philippe Gilbert.