Van Avermaet didn’t hide his disappointment after the 257-kilometer race, which featured 29 cobbled sectors, in what was a brutal edition from start to finish.
The usual battle to make the breakaway turned into a race of its own with the peloton refusing to let any of the early moves go clear, which made for an 80-kilometer long fight to form a breakaway.
Gijs Van Hoecke and Łukasz Wiśniowski went to work early in the race, holding their positions at the front of the bunch, reacting when necessary and attacking to try and go clear, before Michael Schär eventually proved successful and managed to form part of an eight-rider breakaway with 173 kilometers, of the 257 kilometer race, to go.
With key teams missing the move, a chase group, featuring Kamil Gradek, quickly established and as the race hit the cobbles for the first time, the groups came together.
As the first cobbled sectors wreaked havoc, as usual, Gradek and Schär’s breakaway managed to put 50 seconds between the 20-rider group and the bunch, where Van Avermaet was surrounded by the rest of his CCC Team teammates.
Schär and Gradek powered on, determined to make the move stick, but the peloton eventually pulled the breakaway back with 120 kilometers to go, before the group split again, with Van Avermaet on the right end of the split.
As the race approached the famous Trouée d’Arenberg, the groups had come back together and it was Van Avermaet who led the strung out bunch onto the brutal five-star sector.
With punctures and crashes taking out rider after rider, the size of the peloton decreased with every sector. Nathan Van Hooydonck attacked with three riders on sector 16, Warlaing à Brillon, but the peloton was quick to react and neutralized the move approaching sector 15.
Guillaume Van Keirsbulck’s stature and experience on the cobbles proved invaluable for Van Avermaet, who remained well protected by his Belgian teammate as the second half of cobbled sectors loomed.
In the last 60 kilometers, attacks started from the bunch with Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) and Ruddier Selig (Bora-hansgrohe) going almost 30 seconds clear.
A chase group bridged to Gilbert, who briefly led solo, as they approached Mons-en-Pevele, to create an eight-rider lead group inside the final 50 kilometers, meanwhile Van Avermaet remained in the bunch 25 seconds behind.
The leading group, which whittled down to six riders, extended their advantage to one minute with 40 kilometers remaining, and despite an attack from Van Avermaet and a few teams cooperating, the reduced bunch wasn’t able to eat into the breakaway’s advantage.
Van Avermaet led the chase on the Carrefour de l’Arbre and continued to dig deep to bring the group back, at which point Gilbert and Politt had gone clear from the leading group and would ultimately go head to head in the velodrome, with Gilbert proving the strongest of the two.
Van Avermaet’s group entered the velodrome set to battle for sixth place and in the end, Van Avermaet had to settle for 12th place.
Quotes from the Finish Line
Greg Van Avermaet:
“I was a bit too far back when the six guys went and I also thought that it was maybe a little too early. No one reacted directly and from there on, my race was almost over. I was waiting until the Carrefour de l’Arbre to try to make a difference to close the gap to the front group but like I thought might happen, I was not able to come close.”
“I tried to save as much energy as possible at first and then I had a go at coming back but it’s hard to catch a front group like that. It was a big mistake not to be in that group of six so, I am disappointed. With the legs I have right now, I definitely could have finished better and for sure, they would not have been able to drop me but it is how it is. I think it was just a tactical mistake.”
Fabio Baldato, Sports Director:
“Of course, we are disappointed not to have a better result today. We know that Greg could have been on the podium but this is cycling and sometimes it doesn’t go your way. We saw a strong team performance today, with Kamil and Michael in the breakaway, and some good riding from Nathan and Guillaume to protect Greg. Our material was fantastic and we didn’t have any mechanical problems. In the end, Greg was too far back when those six riders went and from there it was difficult to make a difference and bring them back. Paris-Roubaix either goes your way or it doesn’t and today wasn’t our day.”
Compiègne > Roubaix (257km)
Top 3: 1. Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep), 2. Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin), 3. Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
CCC Team top 3: 12. Greg Van Avermaet, 42. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, 47. Nathan Van Hooydonck.