The former UCI Road World Champion, Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step) has won the 117th Paris-Roubaix, ahead of Germany’s Nils Politt (Katusha Alpecin). Rounding out the podium was Gilbert’s teammate and compatriot Yves Lampaert.
This victory marks a fantastic achievement for Gilbert: it’s his fourth different Classic Monument victory after Il Lombardia (2009 and 2010), Liège-Bastogne-Liège (2011) and Tour of Flanders (2017), with only Milano-Sanremo (where he has twice finished third, in 2008 and 2011) now missing in his palmares to complete the legendary set.
On a sunny, cold and fairly windy day, 174 riders took the start – as Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) fell ill overnight – crossing the 7.2km neutralised zone, with 257km ahead of them, including 54.5km on 29 cobblestones sectors.
This year there were only three remaining five star cobbled sectors: the Trouée d'Arenberg (km 164.5), Mons-en-Pévèle (km 212) and the Carrefour de l'Arbre (km 242.5). The shortening of the Troisvilles sector to its first 900 metres was the major change to the course for 2019, while other cobbled sectors were also altered.
After 83km, a group of nine riders including Alexis Gougeard (AG2R La Mondiale) and Damien Gaudin (Total Direct Énergie) opened a significative gap. The group swelled to 23 riders but never pushed to more than a 50” advantage. This group crossed through sector 28, from Briastre to Viesly, where, last year, Michael Goolaerts lost his life in a dramatic accident. His memory has been commemorated this week. On the first cobbled sectors, high winds split the peloton into small groups. After a series of crashes and punctures – including European Road Champion Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), who was in the leading group – the attackers were caught at km 135.
The first of the five star sectors, the Trouée d'Arenberg, saw the start of Wout van Aert’s (Jumbo-Visma) drama: he suffered a mechanical then closed down a gap of 40” to the favorites. He subsequently needed a bike change, then crashed on a bend 85km out before fighting back to the peloton again with 72km to go.
With the first group at around 70 riders, the sole remaining rider from a four-man attack, Wesley Kreder (Wanty-Gobert) was joined – and soon dropped – by Gilbert, Rüdiger Selig (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Nils Politt.
Gilbert broke free, to be joined by a select group including Belgian National Champion, Yves Lampaert, Peter Sagan, Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First), Politt and, incredibly Van Aert. With the group whittled to five and the gap stabilised at 55”, Gilbert attacked at the end of sector 6, the 3-star Bourghelles to Wannehain, with 23km to go. Sagan immediately followed, along with Nils Politt. The other three bridged the gap, with Van Aert losing further time and riding alone on sector 5, Camphin-en-Pévèle.
By the final 5-star sector, Carrefour de l'Arbre, Lampaert’s hard pace saw Politt struggling. Gilbert tried to go, Sagan followed, and by the end of the sector Lampaert, surprisingly, was dropped, before managing to close the bridge.
In Sector 3, Gruson, Politt attacked and was soon joined by Gilbert, making a 13” gap. The drama continued for Sep Vanmarcke with a mechanical, who desperately shouted for a new bike. The gap increased to 40” at the end of the penultimate cobbled sector, with Lampaert riding alone in third, and Sagan looking increasingly tired.
The leading duo entered the iconic Roubaix Velodrome together, where Gilbert dominated the sprint to triumph in the Monument not many believed he could win. The former UCI Road World Champion was joined on the podium by Politt and Lampaert, with Vanmarcke fourth and Sagan fifth.
The Belgian said: “I knew I was in good form, I could feel it last week. I think I did a great race today. I still have this dream to win all the five Monuments and I’m getting closer... I’m not scared of long breakaways, is my job and I went for it. Politt is a very brave rider, not scared of riding hard. We didn’t make any deal, we rode together until the end. This is my fourth Monument and it’s very special. It was a bold option to come here and try to win Roubaix, many people said it didn’t fit me, so I had to train especially for this race to adapt my characteristics and transforming myself into a rouleur to win this race.”
The last rider to win four Monument races in his career was Sean Kelly, victor at Milano-Sanremo in 1992. Only three riders – all Belgians – have won all five Monuments: Rik Van Looy, Roger De Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx, with the latter being the only rider to have won each of them more than once.