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"For sure the headwinds helped, it made it difficult to ride away even for the favorites - in the end they could not even drop a guy that was 220k in the breakaway!”

Photo: A.S.O.

GREGORY RAST

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PARIS - ROUBAIX

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STIJN DEVOLDER

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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12.04.2015 @ 19:49 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Paris-Roubaix came down to an exhilarating seven-man sprint with John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) taking the glory, but it was Gregory Rast finishing in 20th after spending most of the race off the front that was an impressive move that can lay claim to a hardman award for the  253.5-kilometer race.

 

Rast jumped into the day’s long breakaway of nine men and over the next five hours helped maintain the group’s lead. When a decimated peloton finally caught them 21 kilometers from the end only four, including Rast, remained.

 

“It was not planned for me to go in the breakaway, it was designated for five other guys on the team, but I jumped one time and I caught it!”  Rast explained. “Anyhow, I was there, and I knew with nine guys that if we kept a good speed we could go far. That is what we tried. I was hoping there would be more from our team coming from behind so we could do some action in the finale."

 

A small group containing all the favorites latched on to the four leaders, but no pinstripes were there: Stijn Devolder and Gert Steegmans crashed out early on, Jasper Stuyven punctured in the last crucial part, and Danny van Poppel, 21, finally succumbed to fatigue after an impressive race riding his first Paris-Roubaix ever.

 

Rast continued: “I was not 100 percent sure we had no one coming from behind, but then when the group was there I saw there was none. It’s like this - you never know what’s happening in this race, if the guys had a crash, puncture or whatever. Anything and everything can happen.

 

“They caught us the sector before the Carrefour de l’Arbre. At this moment Dirk [Demol] gave me great motivation that I could stay there; it was a headwind and so I knew could stay there.  Then after the Carrefour the jumps began, and groups went away. I was unable to react because I was too tired. That was it.”

 

As two groups of three and four riders came together in the last kilometer to contest the velodrome sprint, Rast gutted it out to finish with a small contingent 31 seconds later that sprinted for 10th place. 

 

Rast, who placed fourth in the 2011 Paris-Roubaix, finished in a notable 20th place, one of only two that remained from the original breakaway. He explained his strategy for being able to outlast most of this breakaway companions:

 

“I tried to not be in front too much in the cobbles because sometimes the adrenaline and excitement can have you pushing too hard, so I tried to save energy here,. I was feeling really good on the road sections, and I was hoping that we could go as far as possible because the later they caught us the more chance I could stay in the front group. For sure the headwinds helped, it made it difficult to ride away even for the favorites – in the end they could not even drop a guy that was 220k in the breakaway!”

 

 

It was sunny and dry for the 113th edition of Paris-Roubaix, but it didn’t stop the usual crashes and punctures from ruining many riders’ chances.

 

Trek Factory Racing lost both Stijn Devolder and Gert Steegmans early in the second cobbled sector before the real racing had even begun.  Both crashes happened in quick succession, close to each other, but neither Devolder nor Steegmans knew that the other had crashed until they surprisingly found themselves both seated in the back of the car.

 

Devolder explained the unfortunate – and very painful – moment: “We were well positioned at the front of the race going into the second section [sector 26] of cobblestones. A rider hit the brakes and literally took my back wheel off the ground. I was in terrible pain, screaming for 5-6 minutes from my calf muscle. It’s very disappointing that it had to happen this way.”

 

In the final 50 kilometers, while Rast continued to ride strong at the front of the race, the peloton gradually picked up the pace behind and started carving out the fatigued and unlucky legs.

 

Both Danny van Poppel and Jasper Stuyven were still represented in the quickly diminishing peloton until Stuyven punctured with just over 38 kilometers to go.

 

“I punctured in sector eight and the game was on already at this point, every sector was going hard," he said. "I hit a rock pretty hard at the start of the sector and I felt immediately the back wheel going flat. Mavic [neutral support] was not there, Dirk [Demol] could not get through and was blocked behind, and so I had to continue to the end of the sector. There is no way with a flat to catch back.

 

“I chased really hard with Arnaud Démare but he was given some “good” bottles from his car and rode away. I could not get back. For me, It was over. In one way I am disappointed, but in another way bad luck is also part of the game and I am happy to finish the Classics with good sensations. I was comfortable on the cobblestones today. I was always there, and this shows you have the legs. I’ll be back!”

 

 

Danny van Poppel prolonged with the decimated peloton until he finally lost contact when the favorites began to lay their cards. After Rast he was the next finisher for Trek Factory Racing in 45th place.

 

In his first ever Paris-Roubaix - and first Monument - the 21-year-old showed it would not be his last time at the famed cobblestone race. It was a remarkable debut.

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