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Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet won his first ‘Monument’ with victory in the prestigious Paris-Roubaix one-day classic on Sunday.
The Olympic champion edged a sprint finish in the iconic outdoor Roubaix velodrome ahead of Czech Zdenek Stybar and Sebastian Langeveld of the Netherlands at the end of the 257km ‘Hell of the North’ cobbled classic.
But having come close several times before, Van Avermaet finally earned a Monument victory despite suffering two early mechanical problems, perhaps taking over the baton from Belgian legend and four-time champion Tom Boonen, who finished a disappointing 13th in his final race before retirement.
Four times Van Avermaet has finished in the top four at the ‘Monument’ Tour of Flanders, including taking second place last weekend despite a late crash.
He was third in Roubaix two years ago — Stybar beat him into second behind John Degenkolb in another sprint finish — and was fourth in 2013. But on the back of the greatest period of his career, Van Avermaet is now a Monument winner.
“I feel very good. I suffered a lot, but when you win, you forget everything,” said the 31-year-old.
“It was quite hard, Stybar was not working with us.
“I was just really strong at the end and really believing in my chances. I’m just really happy I was able to finish it in the end.”
Two years ago Van Avermaet won a stage at the Tour de France for the first time while last year he took another and even wore the race leader’s yellow jersey for three days.
He then finished off the year by winning Games gold in Brazil before heading into this season and dominating the spring cobbled classics from start to finish with victories also at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem.
Several breaks tried to get away throughout the day in beautiful warm, spring sunshine but none could ever get very far down the road.
Several early crashes affected some of the favorites, including 2014 winner Niki Terpstra, who abandoned after hitting the deck.
Van Avermaet had two mechanical issues just over 100km from the finish but joined back with the lead group without incident.
It was his BMC team-mate Daniel Oss who finally made a clear break, initially with company and finally alone. He then proved a help to Van Avermaet when joined by a six-man group that had gone clear of the rest around 32km from the finish when world champion Peter Sagan suffered a puncture that ruined his chances.
The lead group managed to get a 40-second gap to chasers including Boonen and 2015 winner Degenkolb. But the decisive break had been made and on the Carrefour de l’Arbre cobbled section — one of 29 covering a total of 55km — Van Avermaet, Stybar and Langeveld went clear.
They were caught by Jasper Stuyven and Gianni Moscon in the velodrome as they played a risky game of cat and mouse.
Moscon launched the first sprint for home but Stybar easily came past him before Van Avermaet proved he had the strongest sprint.
For former cyclo-cross world champion Stybar it was a second disappointment in Roubaix having also come second to Degenkolb in 2015 and he beat his handlebars in frustration as he crossed the line.
2017 Paris-Roubaix Results
1. Greg Van Avermaet 5hr 41min 07sec
2. Zdenek Stybar (CZE/QST) same time,
3. Sebastian Langeveld (NED/CAN) s.t.
4. Jasper Stuyven (BEL/TRE) s.t., 5.
Gianni Moscon (ITA/SKY) s.t.
6. Arnaud Démare (FRA/FDJ) at 12sec
7. Andre Greipel (GER/LOT) s.t.
8. Edward Theuns (BEL/TRE) s.t.
9. Adrien Petit (FRA/DEN) s.t.
10. John Degenkolb (GER/TRE) s.t.
11. Mathew Hayman (AUS/ORI) s.t.
13. Tom Boonen (BEL/QST) 13