Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep) moved a step closer to completing a full set of Monuments when he beat Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) in a two-up sprint to claim victory at the end of an unrelenting edition of Paris-Roubaix.
It was fitting that Gilbert and Politt were the last men standing at the end of such a slugging match over the cobbles, as each rider had landed more telling blows than most during a breathless day of racing.
The decisive move had its genesis in Politt’s canny attack at the end of the second feed zone with 67km remaining, when Gilbert was the first to react to the German’s probing effort. That attack triggered the denouement, and the race took definitive shape just before the cobbles at Mons-en-Pévèle with 45km remaining. There, the pair emerged in an elite group of six along with defending champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First).
That sextet collaborated smoothly to build up a lead of a minute over a flagging and disorganised chasing group, and their unity only started to ebb when the Quick Step duo of Lampaert and Gilbert began their probing on the cobbles at Wannehain and Carrefour de l’Arbre.
A tiring Van Aert, who had earlier chased back on twice after a mechanical and a crash, lost contact ahead of the Carrefour de l’Arbre, but the pivotal moment came on the following sector at Gruson. With 14.5km remaining, Politt unleashed a determined acceleration that only Gilbert could follow.
With Lampaert policing a fading Sagan and a Vanmarcke beset by mechanical issues, the Gilbert-Politt tandem quickly built up a buffer of 40 seconds over their erstwhile companions, and the duo continued to work together deep into the run-in towards Roubaix.
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