Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) won Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, soundly defeating Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) and Peter Sagan (Bora–Hansgrohe).
Boonen had won Paris-Roubaix four times, equaling Roger De Vlaeminck in wins. This was his last race — he retired at the end of the day — and he intended to go out with a win. At the very beginning of the season he won a stage of the Vuelta a San Juan; however, he didn’t have another victory leading up to Paris-Roubaix.
Sagan had a better spring. He won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and took stages three and five of Tirreno-Adriatico. Sagan raced Paris-Roubaix in 2015 and 2016 but didn’t finish on the podium.
Van Avermaet had great form this spring, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem.
Van Avermaet’s win was all the more notable given that he went down in a crash on cobbles at Wallers with 103km remaining in the 257-km race. He needed a replacement bike, jumped to his feet and walked backwards in search of his team car. He got a bike; however, he was 40 seconds behind the peloton, and 1:19 behind the break. He spent more than 20 km chasing as Boonen’s Quick-Step team pushed the pace before he caught the peloton.
Van Avermaet’s teammate Daniel Oss broke away with 39 km to go to force other teams to chase. A group of six formed, chasing Oss. Sagan had the bad luck to puncture just a couple of minutes later and Boonen didn’t make the break and was left behind. After 25 minutes of chasing, the six caught Oss, with Boonen and Sagan still in pursuit only 30 seconds back with 22 km to go.
Was There Enough Left in the Tank?
Van Avermaet was clearly the strongest in the lead group and it seemed like a dream scenario – but how much energy did he expend chasing back after his bike broke? He still had plenty of energy and it took only five minutes to drop four of the group. Van Avermaet, Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step) and Sebastian Langeveld (Cannondale-Drapac) built their lead even though Stybar, Boonen’s teammate, refused to pull.
Van Avermaet led onto the Velodrome and the trio soft pedaled — who would lead out the sprint? Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) caught them! Moscon went immediately. Stybar started his sprint and came around Moscon with Van Avermaet on his wheel. Van Avermaet took the sprint and won his first monument.
Van Avermaet’s average speed of 45.204 km/h (28.09 mph) was the fastest in the history of the race, faster than the longstanding record set by Peter Post in 1964, when the race featured far fewer kilometers of cobbles.
Six Success Factors for Improvement
I’ve coached racers, and I’ve competed in cycling, running, mountain biking, XC skiing, swimming and triathlons. I’ve learned that there are six factors responsible for success and improvement that apply to any sport. Different success factors are relatively important for different athletes competing in different disciplines.
- Planning and goal-setting
- Effective training
- Sound nutrition
- Mental techniques
- Proper equipment
- Proficient skills
Imagine the hard men racing the dusty cobbles at 45 km/h (28 mph)! Stop for a minute and look at the success factors. How would you rank these in terms of importance for Van Avermaet’s victory?
What Were Van Avermaet’s Key Success Factors?
Here’s my analysis. First, he was very fit! He had a great spring and, despite a broken bike that put him 1:20 behind the leaders, he had the strength to chase them down, go off the front in a new break and then win the sprint.
Second, he is skilled at riding the cobbles: he’d raced Paris-Roubaix in 2007, 2013, and finished third in 2015. He’d raced the cobbled spring classics every year since turning pro in 2007. He’s also a skilled sprinter. He won Olympic gold in a three-man sprint and during his career sprinted to victory 11 times, including out-sprinting Sagan five times.
Third was his nutrition. He finished in 5:41:07, and he couldn’t race that long, and that fast, without taking in plenty of calories. This, along with his training, was the key to his speed throughout the race.
Fourth was the mental factor. Afterward, he said, “I wasreally confident about my sprint because several times I’ve done a sprint from a small group and at the end of a race I was always one of the fastest guys. I came into the track with the thought that I’m going to win this race. Before, I would come to Roubaix on the track and try to do a good result, but now I come to the velodrome and think, now I’m going to win. This small change of mindset makes a difference to the end result.” (Emphasis added.)
Planning, although important, wasn’t decisive. Planning is very important for Chris Froome and the other Tour de France contenders who build their seasons around preparing for the one three-week race. Van Avermaet is a classics specialist, and he builds his season around winning as many of them as he can, not peaking for a specific race. He also raced the Tour de France and wore the yellow jersey for three days last year. He then peaked again for the Olympics.
Equipment obviously wasn’t decisive — he won despite a broken frame and finished on a replacement bike!
Success (Improvement) Achieved by Working on All Six Factors
Cyclists achieve maximum improvement by working on all six of the success factors, not on their favorites or the easiest.
This is how I coach my clients. I identify the priority of the success factors for each rider, which vary depending on the rider’s goal(s), strengths and weaknesses. I then write each rider’s workouts based on his or her specific success factors.
How you can use the six success factors to improve is described in my new eArticle, How to Become a Better Cyclist, which will be published next week. The 36-page eArticle explains in detail how to apply each of the success factors to your cycling.
Roadies have different goals: riding more for improved health and fitness, covering more miles this year, climbing better, riding with a stronger group on the weekends, finishing a specific ride or setting a personal best in a particular event.
This new article is also included in a new bundle of five eArticles to be launched next week as well: The Best of Coach Hughes: 5 Articles to Make You a Better Cyclist. The new bundle will also include:
Your Best Season Ever, Part 1: A 32-page eArticle on how to plan and get the most out of your training. Published in 2015.
Intensity Training 2016: A 41-page eArticle with the latest information on how to use perceived exertion, a heart rate monitor and a power meter to maximize training effectiveness. Published in 2016.
Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance: A 16-page eArticle with 10 different recovery techniques, illustrated with 14 photos. Published in 2011.
Eat & Drink Like the Pros: A 15-page eArticle of nutritional insights from pro cycling teams. It contains a dozen recipes for you to make your own food and sports drinks. Published in 2011.
Look for more details on both the new eArticle and new bundle next week!
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.