25km to go. Niki Terpstra is up the road. behind him, a supremely powerful collection of riders that represent much of the cream of one-day specialists and the fast flat men of professional cycling are poised to pounce, ready, we all imagined, to batter each other into the ground. would it be Cancellara who would put the hammer down, to speed in that inimitable manner of his imperiously to the line?
or would we be treated to be the wondrous sight of this posse roaring into the Roubaix Velodrome en masse, gobbling up Terpstra meters from the line, all fighting elbow to arse for the victory?
it looked for all the world that it had to be one of these options. until the point at which Terpstra got away and we realised he was going to stay away, it had been one of the most riveting, full-blooded editions of P-R in living memory.
but then…. well, the raging phalanx went limp. flaccid. deflated. however you want to describe it, what we all witnessed was a massive anti-climax.
How? Why? WTF?
We all know the how: everyone just stopped riding.
And the why?
well, imagine, if you can for a brief moment, that you are Cancellara. or Wiggins. or anyone else who might have had the power to break that group. would you want to be the man responsible for dragging Boonen to the velodrome, overtaking Terpstra in the process, and handing the Belgian Golden Boy his record-making 5th Roubaix cobblestone?
no chance. Cancellara may respect Boonen, he may even like him, but he, like the others in that group, most would have felt that a Terpstra one-off was better for all but Our Tom. it’s not bitterness nor evidence of any kind of rancour, it’s just highly competitive men taking care of business.
with Stybar also in the mix for OPQS, the Belgian team would in all probability have won anyway, whatever the permutation of riders that could/would have been there at the end.
Boonen was not happy, saying he had the legs to win, but he could hardly criticise his competitors for not riding when his teammate had just won the biggest one-day race of the season. if you know how much Boonen wants five wins here, to eclipse his biggest critic, Roger de Vlaeminck (who also has four wins), then you’d know just how miffed he was.
but they could not, would not drag him to the line.
and that, I reckon, is why the finale of Paris-Roubaix went so terribly flat. popped cork, indeed.