Olympic time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara powered to his second one-day classic victory in a week, winning Paris-Roubaix with another humbling of Belgian rival Tom Boonen.
The Swiss rider’s second victory in the gruelling 259km race, known as the ‘Hell of the North’ due to its 27 sectors of bone-shaking cobblestones, means he also becomes only the 10th rider to achieve a rare classics double.
Last week Cancellara, who rides for Saxo Bank, left Quick Step rival Boonen struggling to keep pace with an attack 15km from the finish line of the Tour of Flanders.
After Boonen’s second place finish in Milan-SanRemo, and his runner-up place in Flanders, the pressure was on Belgian’s biggest cycling star to take revenge.
But on Sunday the three-time Paris-Roubaix champion was again at Cancellara’s mercy, the Swiss attacking with just under 50km to go.
A combination of unrivalled power from Cancellara and a crucial lack of collaboration in Boonen’s chase group allowed the Swiss to build a quick, unassailable lead.
Even before he reached Roubaix’s famous outdoor velodrome Cancellara was celebrating, brandishing the gold angel trinket his family had given him last week for Easter.
Two minutes later, Norwegian Thor Hushovd outsprinted Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha to claim second place with Boonen arriving in fifth a minute later.
“I knew that with my form and the way the last weeks were going I would be difficult to catch once I took a 10 metre lead, that they would be scared,” said Cancellara.
“Boonen, Flecha, Hushovd… I think they knew straight away they were racing for second place, and that allowed me to race my own race.
“Boonen was trying to make some breaks (attacks), so obviously I had to follow him and a couple of times I was starting to doubt myself.
“But my team car was telling me not to race his race, to race my race. That’s what I did, and when I came through the Mons-en-Pevele cobbled sector I decided I would be going all the way to the finish on my own.”
Boonen was left in a seven-man chase group which notably contained Hushovd, Filippo Pozzato, Leif Hoste and Flecha but, apart from Boonen, they had practically conceded defeat.
“I think when Cancellara went everyone understood pretty quickly that we wouldn’t be catching him,” said Cervelo rider Hushovd, who improved on his third place finish from last year.
“That’s why I’m really happy with my second place.”
By the time Cancellara had emerged from the seventh from last cobbled sector at Templeuve, his lead had grown to an unassailable 1:30.
Boonen was angry with the rest of the riders in the group.
“If Cancellara attacks and I can’t follow him that’s fair enough. But I’m really angry with the way some of the other guys rode,” said the 29-year-old Belgian, who won the race in 2005, 2008 and 2009.
“At no time did any of them try to race and some of them, including Flecha, had already resigned themselves to racing for second.”
Flecha said: “I gave everything I had so for me it’s a great finish.
“Cancellara’s strong, but he also had the balls to attack from as far out as he did. For me, he’s a great champion.”