Photo by Lars Ronbog/FrontzoneSport via Getty Images
You read the headline. You know why we’re writing stuff like this. Let’s get started by running through them all first.
Winnar: Johan Museeuw
Was het een drama? More like a one-man drama, as Museeuw got free (briefly with Frankie Andreu) and built a huge lead, only to fade fast down the stretch. His 2.40 advantage was down to 15 seconds as he hit the line, completely exhausted. In the bigger sense he was an aging star who’d nearly lost a leg to an injury suffered in the Arenberg Trench in his previous P-R appearance. He crossed the line pointing to his non-severed limb, one of the race’s most enduring moments ever.
Notable: USPS had a big team around George Hincapie and participated in slowing the chase with Mapei, because they’d gotten Andreu free. Andreu hung with Museeuw while their big power teams blocked the chase. After 20km Museeuw dispatched Andreu while Lefevre silently thanked USPS for being such useful dupes. The 34-year-old Lion of Flanders held off a hard-charging mid-prime Peter Van Petegem by far fewer seconds than USPS had helped him gain.
Greatness-ness: Museeuw’s win was his second of three and he beat a handful of past and future winners (PVP, Tafi, Ballerini) plus Erik Zabel, Steffen Wesemann and Hincapie. And gangrene, his toughest opponent ever.
Winnar: Servais Knaven
Was het een drama? It might be easy to dismiss a race where the entire podium comes from a single team, but that would be a mistake here. Lotto-Domo-Farm Frites certainly dominated the day, but not without tons of drama and tension. The weather was apocalyptic and the race broke up several hours from Roubaix. The strategy featured Wilf Peeters (!) on a long solo escape, allowing his Domo mates to stress their rivals in his wake. But Peeters eventually blew up, around the same time that Museeuw suffered his fifth flat of the day, leading to a wild chase to revive Domo’s strategy. Nothing at all was settled, and Hincapie looked like a potential winner, until 10km to go when Knaven powered away.
Greatness-ness: Belgian fans probably still regret that Knaven didn’t miss the turn for the velodrome, since his victory constituted him taking a pretty tasty morsel off Museeuw’s plate. But sometimes what a champion does behind the winner is just as powerful… as long as the winner is his teammate. Mapei/Domo/Team Lefevre extended their classics resume in a slightly less shameful performance than the 1996 trio’s staged podium sweep.
Winnar: Johan Museeuw
Was het een drama? Yes and no. The top-line is a solo break from 41km out and a comfortable 3 -minute win, something that looks even less awesome now that the peloton’s secrets are out. But it was another muddy, difficult day, and for a while the only riders nipping at Museeuw’s heels were Hincapie and his teammate, neo-pro Tom Boonen, who’d drifted back from the early break to help his general. Hincapie fell into a ditch 20km out, leaving Boonen alone to score third in his first official effort at the infernal stones.
Greatness-ness: I’m not sure how much of Museeuw’s career can be appreciated in hindsight. I couldn’t watch these races, and anyway wasn’t cycling a cesspool of doping, Museeuw included? Maybe, but in real time, well, you had to be there. Museeuw had just missed out on a record-setting fourth Flanders win a week prior and knew his chances were dwindling. He supposedly was so upset that he threatened to quit the sport afterwards. So pulling off the monumental victory a week later was an emotional accomplishment for the Leeuw Museeuw.
Winnar: Peter Van Petegem
Was het een drama? Hm, well it was definitely a changing of the guard, at least for a year or two, as Hincapie missed the race and Museeuw faded, facing questions of retirement, while rivals Lotto finally broke the Domo/Mapei stranglehold. Van Petegem soloed through the warm sunshine up to Dario Pieri and Slava Ekimov on the Carrefour cobbles and powered the winning break home, dusting the two clydesdales in the velodrome sprint.
Greatness-ness: Van Petegem completed his Flanders-Roubaix Double, the seventh rider to do so (now up to 10). After that, the lack of greatness-ness was the only notable element. Even Boonen’s 24th place was notable: his worst non-DNF finish at the race in his career.
Winnar: Magnus Bäckstedt
Was het een drama? Definitely a nailbiter to the end. There was a large, elite group as late as Carrefour de l’Arbe, and Museeuw — making his last attempt — kept blasting away at the leadership, only to blow a tire and leave the win to a sprint among Bäckstedt, Tristan Hoffman, Roger Hammond and Fabian Cancellara (!).
Greatness-ness: Sweden’s only Monument winner could probably live out the rest of his life in his home country and never pay for a beer. But I guess he doesn’t like free beer because he then moved to the UK where he does commentary and runs a team (still? I think?).
Winnar: Tom Boonen
Was het een drama? Sure, I guess. Boonen followed his rookie teammate Filippo Pozzato on an attack at 80km to go, which more or less made the final selection. Punctures winnowed out Cancellara and Lars Michaelsen, and Bäckstedt faded on the Carrefour cobbles, leaving Boonen with Hincapie and Flecha to sprint it out in the velodrome. At the time people might have thought Hincapie would take it, but his 24-year-old ex-teammate had the snap in his legs to finish off the win and an historically youthful Flanders-Roubaix double.
Greatness-ness: Boonen went on to tie Mr. Paris-Roubaix, Roger De Vlaeminck, in total wins, along with so many other benchmarks, so anything involving him checks the greatness box. Tafi’s last go-round was memorable for a bit.
Winnar: Fabian Cancellara
Was het een drama? Several iconic moments around the basic plotline of a solo escape and a disorganized chase. First, the otherwise sleepy race was jarred awake when, on the Mons secteur, George Hincapie sat up with his bars detached from his bike and slammed hard into a ditch. It was surreal, like he’d just woken up the day after one of the Discovery mechanics had refused to do a favor for Vito Corleone. And it ended with about the same amount of screaming. Then Cancellara, a young but pretty prime pick for a podium spot, took off at the 20 km mark, putting presumptive favorite Boonen under sudden and unexpected pressure. Boonen was unusually support-starved at the time, and it seemed like the first crack in his cobbled empire in a while.
Then, because I don’t know why, a train came screaming through the gap between Cancellara and his chasers: a second group with two Hincapie lieutenants (who ducked under the closing crossing gate before the train arrived) and a third group with Boonen who had to stop their pursuit and wait for the train to pass. The fact that they seemed so reluctant to wait rather than jumping into the path of a speeding train tells you something about cyclists. Anyway, G2 was disqualified for not stopping, G3 filled up the rest of the podium, everyone started screaming at everyone else about the rules, and Cancellara soloed home to glory.
Greatness-ness: The first notable Cancellara-Boonen duel. They’d faced off before, when we didn’t know Fab too well, if at all. From here on, we sure did.
Winnar: Stuart O’Grady
Was het een drama? Hm, certainly nothing terribly shocking by Roubaix standards, but a curious enough race and some fine strategic stuff too. O’Grady was in the early break, then absorbed by the more serious threats, leaving a few other just-a-guy types still up front. But the Aussie, off the leash while everyone kept side-eyeing his teammate Cancellara, made another small selection with Roger Hammond and Steffen Wesemann. Ultimately he shook loose from them and went the last 23km alone for the win.
Greatness-ness: If you’re Australian or just a fan of likeable all-round quality riders, sure. O’Grady was the first of four Monument winners from Down Under, now including Matt Goss, Matthew Hayman and the double champ Simon Gerrans. Boonen and Quick Step were going through some things for a couple years in there, so it was a good time to grab some food off their plate.
Winnar: Tom Boonen
Was het een drama? Not by cRaZy P-R standards. The big teams and their big riders got to the front and slowly winnowed down the group until the two mega-favorites, Boonen and Cancellara, got free with 2007 Ronde winner Alessandro Ballan and the trio of titans just jabbed at each other until the inevitable sprint in Roubaix, with its inevitable sprint winner, the then-Tour-stage-quality sprinter Boonen. Cancellara was looking good, but I vaguely remember him maybe being sick before Flanders? Anyway, he said after he felt strong but just couldn’t shake Boonen.
Greatness-ness: The two biggest stars of previous years and another several more to come, two all-time legends and a credible enough interloper (depending on how you define “credible,” but he could ride). All three separated from the chaff, pecking away at one another. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Was het een drama? Solid late-race action with the new Cervelo Test Team bursting to life with very in-form performances from Thor Hushovd and MSR almost-winner Heinrich Haussler putting the leaders under serious pressure. Boonen had help early countering CTT and the other teams, with the late Wouter Weylandt and Sylvain Chavanel piling on the pressure. Finally Boonen winnowed things down in Mons, including Pozzato (now on Liquigas), Flecha, Hushovd, Leif Hoste and Johan Vansummeren. But first Flecha crashed, taking out Hoste and Vansummeren and delaying Pozzato, then Hushovd overcooked a corner while attacking Boonen, letting the Belgian go free to the finish with Pozzato alone at 47”.
Greatness-ness: Some, for sure, although Cancellara just barely made the start, having gone to Flanders off form from illness and DNFing when his chain broke. The upstarts gave Boonen a mighty challenge though, and there were some long resumes in the lead group for sure.
Was het een drama? Until the last hour, loads. Cancellara had just gone to a new level in dropping Boonen on the Muur a week earlier, and Boonen sought to hit back in France, accelerating a few times to test out his Swiss rival. Then he paused to eat a gel, and Cancellara accelerated on a nothing stretch of road, and olalalalalalala Balen, we had a problem. From there the only drama was whether Flecha and Hushovd were going to fight on the velodrome infield following the Norwegian’s sprint for second and Flecha’s sarcastic clapping response.
Greatness-ness: OMG plenty. The Boonen-Cancellara rivalry was in high gear. Bit players like Pozzato (rallying from illness and riding in black to honor the departed Franco Ballerini), Flecha, Hushovd and others ensured a solid race.
Re-watch it! (this is only part 4 of 4, so hunt for the others if you prefer)
Winnar: Johan Vansummeren
Was het een drama? Definitely, as the sneaky-strong Vansummeren toiled away up in the lead group while Cancellara and Hushovd, by this time the world champion and Vansummeren’s team captain, eyed each other suspiciously behind. Eventually Summie hit the gas with 15km to go, and it was entirely Cancellara’s problem now. Rather than chasing right away, he stopped to bitch out the Garmin-Cervelo team car for sitting on his wheel instead of chasing down their own rider, as though chivalry in cycling was suddenly, finally dead. Anyway, he then unleashed a devastating attack that caught everyone but Summie, who had his lone but totally cool moment in the bright, bright sun.
Greatness-ness: Not much. Boonen had crashed out early on, stuck holding a broken wheel in the Trench, IIRC. Cancellara was more than strong enough to win and missed out by a mere 15”, but as they say in cycling, tough shit.
Was het een drama? Reflected drama, I suppose. This time it was Cancellara who went missing, falling on his collarbone in Flanders, so Boonen decided to out-do Cancellara’s 50k feat from two years ago by launching from 53km and coming home alone by 1.39 over Sebastian Turgeot and Ballan, third again.
Greatness-ness: Just Boonen, who capped off a classics season where he scored an unprecedented run of success. He did the first-ever E3-Gent-Flanders-Roubaix quadruple. He set the present records for most E3 wins with five. He tied the all-time records for most wins in Gent-Wevelgem (3), de Ronde (3) and Paris-Roubaix (4). And he never won any of them again. Sadly, Cancellara only contested the first two of those, but so it goes. This was Boonen’s solo all-time victory lap, like a lifetime achievement academy award. He flat-out owned the spring, and who can deny him such a right?
Was het een drama? Meh. This was Boonen’s turn to go missing, after an injury-riddled winter and spring, so Cancellara was the lone real person of interest. He controlled the race and leapt away with 16km to go along with Zdenek Stybar and Sep Vanmarcke. Stybar got taken out by a spectator, which is too bad because he might have had a say in the final sprint. Vanmarcke didn’t.
Greatness-ness: Anything you can do, I can do… about as well. Cancellara never got Gent-Wevelgem at all, but he did his second Flanders-Roubaix Double plus E3. And at the time it seemed like he was poised for more — which he was. Just not in this race.
Winnar: Niki Terpstra
Was het een drama? Sure. It was a chaotic last hour, with Boonen up the road, and then Cancellara, the deck reshuffling several times and nobody getting any real distance. Both of the champions also had mechanical problems that cost them energy, so when Bradley Wiggins (!) went on the penultimate cobbles section and Niki Terpstra was the only one to respond to the attack, then pulling away solo, it was all over and the Netherlands were back in the winners’ circle.
Greatness-ness: Not really. The two big stars were fading some (though Cancellara was coming off his final Flanders win), and next-gen guys like Sagan were coming up quickly from behind. Terpstra reasserting Quick Step success was … something. And we can now see him as a second-tier great with his career Flanders-Roubaix double. But that’s about it.
Winnar: John Degenkolb
Was het een drama? Nothing special. Certainly the first German victory since the initial running of the race 119 years earlier was the headline, and Degenkolb was a strong, threatening presence all day, with his closing speed looking over the raft of new challengers who took turns trying their luck. But that’s about all. The sprinter won the six-man sprint.
Greatness-ness: Cancellara and Boonen were both absent, and fading anyway. The heavyweight was Alexander Kristoff, who had won De Panne, Flanders and the Scheldeprijs over the past two weeks. But apart from Sagan on the hunt, unsuccessfully, this is in the one-off, fun but whatever category.
Winnar: Matthew Hayman
Was het een drama? Sure. Cancellara got left behind in an early split with Sagan and lingered for a couple hours within a minute of the front group of Boonen and co., but eventually crashed in Mons and never made the finale. Ultimately Hayman won in a sprint from Boonen, Ian Stannard, Vanmarcke and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Greatness-ness: Denied. Boonen missed out on a record-setting win, getting boxed in during the sprint and then just not having his old legs to kick him past Hayman. Cancellara saw his luck disappear in his final cobbled classic. Time for the new crop to take over.
Winnar: Greg Van Avermaet
Was het een drama? Not really. Van Avermaet attacked a reshuffling group of favorites in the Carrefour de l’Arbe (where else?) and formed a winning trio, then quintet, which stayed away from a second group of threatening riders, including Tom Boonen in his last-ever race.
Greatness-ness: Meh. Van Avermaet is now a B-list champion, like Terpstra, and may still yet have some padding of his resume to do. But mostly it was the end of an era.
Winnar: Peter Sagan
Was het een drama? No, Sagan attacked the favorites from Orchies, caught the front guys, and left them with only Sylvain Dillier for light chaperone work.
Greatness-ness: Sagan winning the Queen of the Classics in the rainbow stripes? Yep, that’s greatness. With a Flanders win two years earlier he made his career double happen.
Winnar: Philippe Gilbert
Was het een drama? Middlin. The race was a star-studded sextet into the final secteurs, including Sagan, Vanmarcke and Wout Van Aert (keep an eye on this kid), but Nils Pollitt launched and only Gilbert could follow, with the Belgian winning the sprint.
Greatness-ness: Gilbert for sure. This race was universally considered the one monument nobody thought he would win, but with his victory he now owns four of the five for his career, missing only Milano-Sanremo.
This is where things get a bit, um, unscientific, to put it charitably. I will do this in tiers.
11-20, in no particular order: 2005, 2007, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
My top ten…
10: 2003, PVP breaks through
9: 2004, Museeuw falters Maggie profits
8: 2009, Chaos and crashes
7: 2012, Boonen rides to history
6: 2000, Museeuw and Domo sweep out the rot
5: 2010, Cancellara in clash of titans
4: 2011, Vansummeren shocker
3: 2002, The Last Lion
2: 2001, Knaven in the muddy chaos
1: 2006, I still can’t believe what happened.
That’s my list! How about yours? Top five or top three if you prefer.