Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervélo) soloed to the biggest win of his career on Sunday at Paris-Roubaix, finishing ahead of Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) and Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank).
In an unhinged edition of the race that ultimately played into the hands of the breakaways, giant Van Summeren joined the day’s existing escape after the horrific Arenberg sector and broke clear of his last remaining companions on the Carrefour de l’Arbre.
Meanwhile, big favourite Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) leaves the cobbled Cassics season empty handed, despite a ride of impressive strength and aggression.
Crashes and bad luck put paid to several favourites’ hopes in a hot, dusty edition of Paris-Roubaix. Tom Boonen was the biggest name to lose out. The Belgian suffered a puncture in the Arenberg Forest sector, then went down in a crash, which also affected Geraint Thomas (Team Sky).
There were also crashes for Roger Hammond (Garmin-Cervelo), Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil) in the closing 90 kilometres, scuppering their hopes.
The ten-man existing breakaway of the day was swelled by eight more after the Arenberg Forest sector, crucially including the likes of Vansummeren, Bak, Rast, Quinziato (BMC), Boom (Rabobank) and 1997 winner Guesdon (Francaise des Jeux).
With 47 kilometres to go, after a dig from Thor Hushovd, Fabian Cancellara showed his face for the first time with an explosive acceleration on the Mons-en-Pevele section of cobbles, bringing fellow favourites Hushovd, Alessandro Ballan and Juan Antonio Flecha with him.
Two more times the Leopard Trek man powered, and only Hushovd and Ballan could follow.
However, Cancellara was isolated, without a teammate behind or in front. Having done the majority of the work thus far, he stopped pulling and the three contenders slowed and remonstrated with one another.
The breakaway benefits
All the while, the beefy breakaway sat tantalisingly up the road, their gap hovering around the minute mark.
Just before the final five-star sector of cobbles, the Carrefour de l’Arbre, Van Summeren broke clear with Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank), Lars Bak (HTC-Columbia) and Gregory Rast (Team Radioshack).
Onto the pavé, the giant Belgian made his move, charging across the rough stones. Then, it was down into the drops for the time trial of his lif. Vansummeren never looked back, extending his lead on Tjallingii, who was swept up again by Rast and Bak.
Behind, Cancellara continued to attack in his quest to break free; Hushovd, team leader-turned-defender, was quickest onto his wheel on several occasions. The Swiss finally broke free with four kilometres to go and, in a show of impressive strength, motored straight across to the chasers.
However, Johan Van Summeren was gone, forty seconds up the road. Despite riding the last five kilometres with a flat back tyre, the Belgian made it to the velodrome with time to celebrate the biggest win of his career, a succesful tactical gamble made by Garmin-Cervelo.
Behind, Cancellara outsprinted Tjallingii and Rast for second place. However, another near miss in a Monument will come as scant consolation for the Swiss.
Nobody could bedrudge his strength or aggression, but he was ultimately handicapped by the absence of Leopard Trek teammates in the final 80 kilometres.
So many times before 30 year old Van Summeren, a rake of a man, has given his all for team leaders as a selfless domestique. As the favourites bickered behind, the cards fell in his favour and he took his opportunity, showing how effective Garmin’s dream team policy can be.
Though fifth in Paris-Roubaix two years ago, this is only the third win of Van Summeren’s career after a Tour of Poland stage and overall win in 2007.
2011 Paris-Roubaix, 258km
1. Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin-Cervelo 6-07-28
2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard Trek at 19secs
3. Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Rabobank
4. Gregory Rast (Swi) Team RadioShack
5. Lars Bak (Den) HTC-Highroad at 21secs
6. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team at 36secs
7. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) HTC-Highroad at 47secs
8. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervelo
9. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Team Sky
10. Matthew Hayman (Aus) Team Sky at same time
36. Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky at 4-46
90. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Team Sky at 13-50