Sir Bradley Wiggins and his Sky teammate Geraint Thomas rode excellently in yesterday's Paris-Roubaix, but the pair were still left to wonder what might have been.
Thomas joined Tom Boonen in an early breakaway 64km from home but after being caught by a group including Wiggins, Thomas opted to help the former Tour de France winner.
They rode in a 11-man strong group containing pre-race favourites Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma – QuickStep) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale), as well as Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar, John Degenkolb and Sep Vanmarcke.
Terpstra attacked 6.2km from the line and held on to win the classic cobblestone race with a solo finish in the Roubaix Velodrome, 20 seconds ahead of the group.
The chasing riders were left to sprint it out for the remaining two podium places and Degenkolb beat Cancellara to the runners-up spot. Thomas finished seventh and Wiggins came in ninth.
Thomas expressed some regret about his teammate not going all out for the win.
“I was on the back just trying to catch my breath,” Thomas said. “I was hoping that Brad would go but when he didn’t, the [Giant-] Shimano guy started coming and I rode with him.
“I was hoping that Brad would hit them in the end, but I guess he didn’t feel confident in doing so. Maybe he was waiting for Fabian to try something, I don’t know. I committed myself for him and that was it.”
The mixed emotions of Thomas were shared by Wiggins, who proved his one-day classic credentials after pre-race doubts about whether he possessed the necessary ability and courage to stay with the favourites.
“There’s a tinge of disappointment. I really had legs, even in the final, I felt strong,” Wiggins explained, after a shower on the team bus. “I was pinching myself a little bit, I don’t mind admitting that.
“I attacked, and then after that, I don’t know really, I just felt out-numbered. And the run-in was quiet fast in the last five kilometres. Terpstra played it perfectly with [his team-mates] Stybar and Boonen.”
Terpstra found himself in an ideal position with three of his Omega Pharma – QuickStep teammates in the lead group and when he attacked, the chase was halfhearted as the pursuers did not want to drag the Dutchman's teammates back in contention.
Thomas had used up most of his energy in the earlier unsuccessful breakaway with Boonen and was unable to help a tiring Wiggins chase in the final kilometres.
This was Wiggins' first appearance at the Paris-Roubaix since 2011 and his excellent performance – coupled with his successful participation in last Sunday's Tour of Flanders – will give the Briton belief for future classics.
And after the initial disappointment, Wiggins reflected on what, all things considered, had been a good race for him.
“It was a real honour to be in the final,” he said. “Going past Boonen on the Carrefour [cobbled sector] was special. And then to come on the velodrome with a group like Cancellara. To be there was great. It gave me confidence that I can do it now and match those guys.”
Thomas remains the most likely British winner in any future Paris-Roubaix but Wiggins should not be written off completely.
This was the best finish by a Tour de France winner since Greg LeMond claimed ninth late in his career, in 1992. Wiggins, freed from his Tour de France focus, equalled the American's achievement.
Wiggins said he would like to return to race in the Paris-Roubaix in the future. For now, however, he returns to his more accustomed role as a General Classification contender in the upcoming Tour of California as he looks to secure a place in Chris Froome's Tour de France team.
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