ROUBAIX, France (AP) Niki Terpstra of the Netherlands won the Paris-Roubaix race for the first time on Sunday, making a decisive break near the end of the one-day classic to win it by 20 seconds and upstage pre-race favorites Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara.
Belgian rider Boonen was looking to win the race for a record fifth time, and the Swiss star Cancellara, who finished in third place, for a fourth time.
Terpstra outwitted his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammate Boonen after pulling ahead with about six kilometers (3.7 miles) remaining. Known as the ”hell of the north” because it is so grueling, the race features about 50 kilometers (31 miles) of cobblestone sections along the 257-kilometer (160-mile) route.
”Maybe not (the best day) in my life, but for sure my career,” said Terpstra, who won in a little more than six hours. ”I did the attack and I was in front but I didn’t know (by) how many seconds. I was just pushing until the end.”
German rider John Degenkolb finished second after beating Cancellara in a sprint to the line. Belgian rider Sep Vanmarcke was fourth and Czech cyclist Zdenek Stybar – Terpstra’s teammate – was fifth.
Boonen attacked strongly from the front as a group of eight riders, including Peter Sagan, kept the pressure on the Tour of Flanders champion Cancellara, who was tucked in the chasing pack and lacking his usual pace after being involved in a crash.
The only other four-time winner is Belgian Roger de Vlaeminck, who won in 1972, `74, `75 and `77 and the 33-year-old Boonen will have to wait another year for a chance to break the record.
Sagan took the lead and, after passing the Carrefour de l’Arbre cobblestone section, he was a few seconds ahead of a group of six riders. But Boonen caught back up with about 10 kilometers to go and Terpstra was with him.
”Tom and I came back in the front but after the last cobble section, I attacked,” Terpstra said.
The 33-year-old Cancellara missed the chance to become the only rider to win Flanders and Roubaix back-to-back in consecutive years.
”It was really hard. The first thing was that the wind changed a lot of things. I was struggling a bit after my fall, had to change my bike and work hard to catch up,” he said. ”That cost me a lot of energy.”
Still, after also finishing second in the Milan-San Remo classic last month, Cancellara was not too disheartened.
”I’m proud of myself because I gave my maximum, and it’s the 12th time I’ve been on the podium (in a classic race),” he said. ”I’m proud of that.”
Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff of Norway had a puncture in the Trouee d’Arenberg, one of the most feared cobbled sectors.