Where the First World War ended, the battle in the 117th edition of Paris-Roubaix started on Sunday.

A total of 175 riders left the city of Compiègne around 11 a.m. local time. One rider didn’t appear at the start: Colombian rider Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team) got a fever during the night so wasn’t able to start.

Peter Sagan (Bora – Hansgrohe) was looking to defend his 2018 title during a so-so 2019 classics season, while Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) was looking to capture his fourth monument and first-ever Paris-Roubaix win.

Those two riders were expected to be there at the end. Who else would join them for the chance at winning one of the sport’s most important races?

Early Breaks

The first rider who got a meaningful gap was Kazach rider Dmitri Groezdev (Astana Pro Team). Alone with a headwind against a chasing peloton with a lot of riders who wanted to get into the breakaway, it didn’t work out though.

Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), winner of the U19 Paris-Roubaix in 2013, and Marco Marcato (UAE) were the next ones to give it go, but after one hour of racing, everything was back together once again.

With about 40 km left to the first cobblestone section of the day, Jurgen Roelandts (Movistar), Würtz Schmidt (Katjoesja-Alpecin), winner of the U19 Paris-Roubaix in 2012 and Casper Pedersen (Sunweb) gave it a try. They got an advantage of more than half a minute, but then the pace in the peloton raised again.

The three got caught and another group of riders gave it a go. A group with, among others, Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Nils Politt (Katjoesja-Alpecin) launched a counterattack.

At the beginning of “Secteur 29” the leaders still had some advantage, but the group with Lampaert and Politt was closing in. The peloton, however, was not far behind either. After that first cobblestone section, group two joined group one. In the peloton the team of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Team Sky, Lotto-Soudal and Bahrein-Merida were pulling.

After “Secteur 28,” named for Michael Goolaerts after last year’s tragedy, the lead group swelled to 23 riders.

Unfortunate punctures for Alexander Kristoff (UAE), who finished third at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Euro champ Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton – Scott) dropped them out of contention.

Towards the first five-star cobble section of the day (Le Trouée d’Arenberg), a crash broke the peloton in half. Sagan, Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale), second in this year’s Milan-San Remo, were in the second half.

Just before “Secteur 20,” which was the section before Le Trouée d’Arenberg, the second half with Sagan, Gilbert, Benoot and Naesen returned. In the meantime the race ended for Iljo Keisse: the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider hit some road furniture and broke his elbow.

Van Aert’s Troubles

Heading toward the feared “Secteur 19” it seemed like it was game over for Kristoff. After two punctures the Norwegian rider was almost 2 minutes behind.

Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) was the first rider to dive into the Forest of Arenberg. Paris-Roubaix is not often won here but is often lost here, however.

Was this the fate for Van Aert, who suffered a mechanical, as well? With some advantage, Stijn Vandenbergh (AG2R La Mondiale) was the first rider to leave the forest.

For Van Aert, the mechanical issue got solved, but he was 40 seconds behind at the end of “Secteur 19.”

At the end of “Secteur 18,” Van Aert returned to the peloton, which caught up with Vandenbergh. Benoot and Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) were the next ones to face mechanical problems.

While Stybar returned, Van Aert stopped along the side the road to get his bike back. In the forest, he apparently had taken the bike of a teammate.

Trying to return Van Aert crashed. In a corner, his bike slipped away from under him. A lot of bad luck for Van Aert in this 117th edition of the Hell of the North.

Towards “Secteur 17” Benoot was still half a minute behind, but because of his crash, Van Aert had an even bigger arrears.

While Benoot crashed against Van Aert’s team car, Van Aert himself returned to the peloton with 72 km left. On his own, he closed a gap of more than a minute. A very strong performance by the three-time cyclocross world champion!

Benoot on the other hand left the race. The Jumbo-Visma team car didn’t get out of the crash undamaged either: with a broken windshield in the back, they continued driving supporting their leader Van Aert.

The Decisive Split and Exciting Finish

Wesley Kreder (Wanty-Gobert) took off on “Secteur 15.” On “Secteur 14,” he was joined by Gilbert, Politt and Rüdiger Selig (Bora-Hansgrohe). The Trek-Segafredo team started chasing. With 57 km left, Gilbert, Politt and Selig had a 17-second advantage. Kreder was dropped on the cobbles in the meantime.

When Gilbert and Politt, two strong riders, took off it was a sign for Sagan, Van Aert, Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First), Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrein-Merida), Marc Sarreau (Groupama-FDJ) and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) to launch a counterattack.

Selig, who got dropped by Gilbert and Politt, could now spill his last energy for his leader Sagan. With 52 km left, Selig was leading the chasing group, who was 10 seconds behind on Gilbert and Politt. The peloton had a 25 seconds arrears.

On a next cobblestone section, Politt got dropped by Gilbert. Selig, who had spilled his last energy for his leader Sagan, got dropped in the chasing group, while Garcia Cortina got a puncture.

Right before entering the second out of three five-star cobble sections of the day, Mons-en-Pévèle, Gilbert got joined by Lampaert, Van Aert, Vanmarcke, Sagan, Politt, Sarreau and Laporte. For those last two, the pace on the cobbles was too high and they got dropped.

With 42 km left and a 42 seconds arrears for the peloton, it was clear that the winner of the 2019 edition of the Hell of the North would be Lampaert, Van Aert, Vanmarcke, Sagan, Politt or Gilbert.

After the group stayed together for a long spell, Gilbert attacked with 23km to go. Sagan and Politt responded and closed the gap, while Lampaert, being the perfect teammate, looked at Vanmarcke and Van Aert.

After the Belgian champion let Vanmarcke and Van Aert waste some energy in the chase, Lampaert attacked. Vanmarcke regained his wheel, while Van Aert broke down. After all his chasing, Van Aert’s fuel tank was empty.

The two chasers were not done, however. By the end of “Secteur 5,” Vanmarcke, with Lampaert on his wheel, bridged up to Gilbert, Sagan and Politt, making it a group of five with Carrefour de l’Arbre, the last five-star cobblestone section was coming up.

Lampaert and Vanmarcke both wanted to hit the cobbles first. Lampaert won the duel and entered the feared “Secteur 4” in pole position. We could see Vanmarcke’s gear changing. Was this preparing for an attack or a mechanical issue? A mechanical issue would turn out to be the answer.

Gilbert was the one who attacked on “Secteur 4.” Sagan closed the gap. Vanmarcke, who was forced to push a high gear and Politt were a little behind. Belgian national champion Lampaert faded back a bit.

Entering “Secteur 3,” Vanmarcke and Politt had closed the gap. While Lampaert was closing in again, Politt attacked. Sagan wasn’t able to close the gap again this time. Gilbert, who saw Politt taking advantage, reacted. He closed the gap with the German, while teammate Lampaert closed the gap with Sagan and Vanmarcke.

Entering “Secteur 2,” Sagan, Vanmarcke and Lampaert were almost 30 seconds behind. Coming of this section, Vanmarcke finally got some assistance from his team car. The problem couldn’t be solved, so Vanmarcke had to change bikes. It seemed like Politt and Gilbert were going to battle for the win and Sagan and Lampaert for third place.

With a few kilometers left Lampaert dropped Sagan. The tank of the Slovakian was running empty as well.

Gilbert, knowing that Lampaert was now alone, started gambling and didn’t take the lead position with Politt anymore. It was down to Gilbert and Politt for the win, with Lampaert holding a solid solo third.

After the short one-star cobble section “Secteur 1” in Roubaix, Politt and Gilbert entered the last km. The velodrome awaited them.

Politt, stuck on the front, entered the velodrome first. Crossing the finish line for the last lap on the velodrome, it was clear Lampaert wouldn’t come back anymore. A sprint between Politt and Gilbert on the velodrome was coming up.

Politt, who is an ex-track racer, kept Gilbert high in the track. The Belgian former world champion was the one to start the sprint. Politt reacted quickly, but Gilbert was faster. With Paris-Roubaix Gilbert added another monument to his honors list.

Gilbert, who dreams to win all five monuments at least once, now is close to realizing that dream. Only Milan-San Remo still has to be won one day.

Said Gilbert after the race, “This is why I came to this team (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), to be able to win these races. This team has so much expertise and experience in these races. In 2017, I won the Ronde for Patrick (the team manager) and now Paris-Roubaix. That’s why I am very happy that I came to this team.” (source: Sporza, translated).

Politt, after finishing fifth in last week’s Ronde van Vlaanderen, now finished second in Paris-Roubaix. Lampaert finished 3rd on 13 seconds and Vanmarcke, who was very unhappy after the race, finished 4rd.

“I didn’t get low in energy towards the end like the past years, and physically and tactically I didn’t do anything wrong,” Vanmarcke said. “But right before the most important sections, my bike gave up and that kills your legs. I couldn’t change gears anymore. I did everything I could to keep following and I managed to do that, but then they attacked in the end and I couldn’t do anything else than let them go, although I had the legs to follow.” (source: Sporza, translated)

Van Aert, just as Vanmarcke, deserved a better result. The cyclocross champion finished 22nd.

Taylor Phinney (EF Education First), who was the American hope for a good result in Paris-Roubaix, suffered a mechanical just as teammate Vanmarcke and the team car missed him standing roadside.