What an incredible day it would prove to be as "The Hell of the North" lived up to be 257km of pure drama. From the start gun the pace was on as the early break tried to form. On numerous occasions a group would get away, but the composition was never to the liking of all the teams and so everything was shut down in the first 70km of the race. Matt Brammeier and Jay Thomson were really attentive in the early parts of the race, following all the moves.
Mark Cavendish also got in on the action and the Manxman got into a break of 24 riders which had a 30" lead on the peloton at one point but that move was shut down too. The pace was so high in fact that the peloton had split into 4 groups after 50km of racing. Eventually everything came back together and thankfully so as Boasson Hagen had punctured and had to chase back to the head of the race. It was only after kilometer 75 that the actual break of the day went clear. It was made up of 16 riders and our African Team had Reinardt Janse van Rensburg in the mix.
As the break rode ahead to a 3'40" lead the defining moment of the race came with a little more than 105km to go. A big crash in the peloton saw a front split of 20 riders go clear. We had Boasson Hagen and Bernhard Eisel in this definitive move while race favourites Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) were caught in the group just behind, along with Cavendish.
Our Norwegian champion, together with Boonen and a few of his Etixx teammates were then able to get through the Forest of Arenberg cobble sector just before a group containing a number of Team Sky and LottoNL-Jumbo riders joined them. With Boonen, Vanmarcke and Stannard all having teammates in this select group they drove the pace and the Sagan/Cancellara group could only watch the time gap increase from 30" to 1'00".
Boasson Hagen's group then caught the early break with 65km to go. With a group of nearly 25 riders upfront now, Boasson Hagen attacked and reduced the group to just 15 riders. Team Sky were than dealt a blow as 2 of their riders in the lead group crashed on a cobble sector with 50km to go. Boasson Hagen was able to miss the bodies and bikes in the road and continued to push the pace with Vanmarcke. The crash had reduced the lead group to just 10 riders now and the Carrefour de l'Arbre still had to be raced.
Just before the leaders arrived at what is most probably the most treacherous cobble sector of the race, Luke Rowe (Team Sky) attacked in the crosswind and this saw the front group reduced to just the 5 strongest riders on the day; Boasson Hagen, Stannard, Vanmarcke, Boonen and Hayman.
Vanmarcke attacked through the Carrefour de l'Abre and the other 4 were really put on the limit during the chase. Vanmarcke was brought back with just 10km to go and then the leaders really began to "throwdown". Vanmarcke attacked again, Boonen countered and Boasson Hagen also followed to bring it all back together. Hayman was the next to go and he got a gap which Boonen was able to bridge with 2km to go.
The other 3 chased for all their worth and just made it onto the leading two's tails as we entered the Roubaix Velodrome. All 5 riders were already well into the red zone as they opened up a painful sprint. Hayman proved to have the most left in the tank as he took a really good win. Boonen was 2nd, Stannard 3rd, Vanmarcke 4th and Boasson Hagen took 5th place. An incredible ride by our Norwegian champion and a terrific result by our African Team.