Van Avermaet, who has had a stellar Spring Classics campaign with three UCI WorldTour wins in the Belgian Classics, was hungry to stand on the top step of the podium after finishing second at Tour of Flanders.
The race was not without its ups and downs but solid teamwork put Van Avermaet into the right position heading into the finale.
With a strong tailwind and hot and dry conditions, it was a fast start to racing. Multiple attempts to form a breakaway were shut down and finally three riders went clear after almost 100km.
Crashes continued to divide the peloton but Van Avermaet was well-protected at the front of the bunch.
With the help of his teammates Van Avermaet came back to the race car to adjust his bike and was caught in a bottle neck on his return, eventually needing a new bike and losing time on the bunch on sector 20.
Brilliant teamwork saw Van Avermaet slowly claw back the time and with 85km to go, Van Avermaet made the junction. At that moment, Daniel Oss went clear with Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Peter Sagan and Maciej Bodnar (both Bora-Hansgrohe).
The four riders forged on ahead creating the perfect situation for Van Avermaet, who was able to sit back and let other teams chase the group.
A rear flat for Sagan left Oss and Stuyven in front and Oss’ incredible strength saw him go solo with 38km remaining, after Van Avermaet’s group had bridged.
A small selection from Van Avermaet’s group went clear and as they caught Oss with 24km remaining, Oss put the hammer down for Van Avermaet.
With three cobble sections to go, it was just Van Avermaet, Zdenek Stybar (Quickstep-Floors) and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling Team) left.
The trio battled to stay in front and as they reached the famous velodrome it was a game of cat and mouse. With the chasers entering soon after and threatening their fight for the win, the sprints started and it was Van Avermaet who had the legs and strength to take the honors in a thrilling win.
Boonen’s Final Paris-Roubaix
April 9th 2017 will primarily be remembered for being the day on which Tom Boonen bided farewell to the sport. One of cycling’s biggest champions and personalities, the 36-year-old made the race on Sunday, attacking on several occasions, stretching out the peloton and giving his every ounce of energy to accomplish his goal of retiring with a fifth Paris-Roubaix in the bag.
Even though that much-desired win eluded him and he finished his last participation at the “Queen of the Classics” in 13th place, 12 seconds down on the first group, Tom was all smiles at the finish, where he was given a hero’s welcome by his supporters.
“Last few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions, but I’m telling you that I wouldn’t have imagined such incredible moments this morning. These fans are fantastic and I want to thank them for being by my side in the past 15 years. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking of my retirement today, I was all in for the victory. It was only at the 5km-to-go mark that I began thinking these are the last kilometers of my career“, said Tom Boonen, a four-time Paris-Roubaix winner, who was cheered outside the team bus by hundreds and hundreds of people who wanted to show their love and appreciation for one of the greatest ever riders to play the game.
After he left Roubaix together with the team whose symbol he has been for a decade and a half, and as the dust settled and the fans headed home, two words continued to reverberate around Compiègne’s Avenue Royale, where Boonen made his first appeareance as a former rider: “Merci Tommeke! Merci Tommeke! Merci Tommeke!”
Photos © Quick-Step Floors Cycling Team/ Tim De Waele – Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele