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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Heyman Breaks Through At Roubaix and Feng Fails To Finish


For anyone who found a feed for yesterday's running of the Paris-Roubaix, they were treated to a classic of a classic. 

This year was billed as a sort of passing of the torch between the older generation of classics heroes with two of the most storied one-day specialists in Tom Boonen and Fabien Cancellara both healthy enough to go toe to toe on the cobbles after several years of one without the other as the foil, and the 26yo. Slovak, Peter Sagan seeking to build on his Flanders victory last week to affirm his ascendance.  This was to be Cancellara's last Paris-Roubaix and the great Yaroslav Popovych's last race. Everything seemed to be conspiring for this to be either the final hurrah for these old warriors or the heading of a new era. 

The thing about the Paris-Roubaix, is that it is never the type of race to lend itself to storybook endings. We had Boonen join an early chase group with Cancellara close behind. We had Sagan without teammates left to cobble together brittle alliances in the hopes of catching Boonen. As the pressure began to build with each section of cobbles beyond the crucible of the Arenberg Trench, tight, slippery, mud-caked corners took the legs out of the peloton, thinning the herd and bringing dreams of a victory at the velodrome in Roubaix down like a house of cards amid the brutal thud of tires over pave. 

Of the heavy favorites, Cancellara was the first to drop in a fall on the Monsen-Pevele sector-- the same sector the big Swiss had seen in a pre race premonition as the key to his race. Sadly, he was unable to recover and contend for the victory. He almost took out Sagan in the process, leaving Sagan to demonstrate his superior, but futile bike handling skills as the break out bunch led by the powerful Tony Martin, drove ahead to reel in a five-man break. When Boonen's group took to the front it looked like the battered Belgian 4x Paris Roubaix champion might finally, at age 35, surpass the famed Roger DeVlaemink, for a record fifth victory. It was so on.

As all eyes looked on, Boonen could not muster enough energy in the velodrome to beat out Mathew Haymen, the 37yo. Mathew Haymen from Orica-GreenEDGE. Meanwhile, Fabien Cancellara crashed on his farewell lap around the velodrome in a final gesture of appreciation to the fans. He may be reconsidering his retirement plans to redo that unceremonious farewell...or simply take it as a hint. 

So in the end... the Paris-Roubaix was won by one of the old men of the peloton... just not one of the old men everyone was guessing.

On the Taiwan angle of the Paris-Roubaix, our very own Feng Chun-kai of Lampre-Merida, was thrown into the fray once more by a team desperate to have a representative from the sponsor's home country. Feng, at 1.70m and 68kg, seems ill suited for these one-day races that are dominated by the big men who are often 10cm taller and 15kg heavier than Feng. Moreover, the terrain would be unfamiliar for a Taiwanese cyclist from a land of exquisite climbs, but few great stretches (any?) of unobstructed roadway with less than ideal pavement. Feng collected another DNF after getting caught in the rear group that failed to gain on the lead groups. Lamer-Merida collected their equipment and marched off for other events up the road where they have the personnel to better contend for prizes. Next for Feng will be next week at the Giro dell'Appennino.