Johan Van Summeren delivered an emotional victory for Garmin-Cervélo in Paris-Roubaix as the team played a tactically perfect race with strength in numbers to win one of cycling’s most prestigious and oldest one-day classics of the year.
“This is a great win for me and it’s thanks to my team that I was able to win,” Van Summeren said after hoisting the trademark cobblestone trophy over his head.
“Thor (Hushovd) was the leader today for our team. He’s the world champion and I was working for him. When the tactics played out, I was in position to make an attack. I could tell early on that I had good legs.”
A knee injury knocked Van Summeren out of last weekend’s Tour of Flanders, but he was back at full strength for the 104th edition of the “Hell of the North.”
The 30-year-old Belgian made it through the critical Arenberg cobblestone sector unscathed and then bridged out to an early breakaway to forge an important, 1:20 lead going into the decisive final 50km of the 258km race. Gabriel Rasch later bridged out to give Garmin-Cervélo two riders in the big, 20-rider lead group.
World champion Thor Hushovd was able to shadow defending champion Fabian Cancellara when the late attacks came, but with Van Summeren up the road, Hushovd could afford to play the waiting game and put pressure on Cancellara. Roubaix rookie Sep Vanmarcke also bridged out to the Hushovd group, giving Garmin-Cervélo two riders in each group going into the final battleground.
“The team played a perfect tactic today. Thor was a team captain and he was able to follow Cancellara, so you could see that he was very strong today. Johan was smart to get into that breakaway and we kept telling him to wait for Thor. And when Thor’s group didn’t reach the front, we gave Johan the chance to attack,” said Garmin-Cervélo sport director Jonathan Vaughters.
“This, by far, is our biggest win as a team. And we’re especially pleased the way we won it. People have to remember that cycling is a team sport and we rode our team tactics today to perfection.”
Roubaix is arguably the most grueling race on the calendar and Garmin-Cervélo saw its fair share of mishaps. Punctures and crashes are inevitable and Heinrich Haussler and Roger Hammond both hit the deck just as the main bunch was roaring toward the decisive Arenberg cobbles. Hammond was sent to a local hospital and Hausser was unable to finish.
Van Summeren lit up the race after coming out of the Arenberg in good position. The tall Belgian charged out of the pack of favorites to lead the chase to eventually join up with the day’s early main breakaway. Gabriel Rasch also bridged out, putting two Garmin-Cervélo jerseys in the a front group of 21 going into the decisive, final 50km.
“We had Thor coming up from behind, so we kept telling the other guys in the break it wasn’t up to us to work,” Van Summeren said. “Missing Flanders last week really made a difference. I could tell straight away I was the strongest in the group.”
Hushovd was right where he needed to be at the decisive moments in the closing 50km. He shadowed arch-rival Cancellara with attacks across the rough Pevele sector.
Garmin-Cervélo won the arms race, with Rasch and Van Summeren in the lead group and Vanmarcke eventually bridging across to the Cancellara-Hushovd-Flecha trio with 30km to go.
“This is my first Roubaix, but to be able to play such a key role late in the race gives me motivation for me,” Vanmarcke said, who finished 20th at 3:43. “Everyone was very motivated to race today. We knew we would have a good chance to win and now that we did, it’s just amazing. I am very tired, but very happy!”
Hushovd played the loyal teammate and rode defensively to help Van Summeren have his chance to win and crossed the line eighth at 47 seconds back.
“Of course, I was not going to work when I had teammates up the road,” Hushovd said. “This team is very united and we always work together. I am very happy that we could win today. That was our goal and we achieved it.”
Van Summeren attacked late to gap the chasers and had enough to fend off a late attack from Cancellara. He even rode the final kilometers on a slow puncture, but made it across the line with the team’s most important European victory.
“I had a puncture with 5km to go. I knew it was too late to change the wheel, so I had to take it a little easy on the velodrome,” Van Summeren said. “I know how to ride on a flat because sometimes I forget to bring a tire on training rides.”
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