Fabian Cancellara has made no secret of the fact that he was not only targeting this year's Paris-Roubaix but believed that he would win it. With an assuredly powerful performance, the Swiss CSC rider did just that on Sunday afternoon, twice forcing key breaks with driving attacks on the cobbles and ultimately seeing off all of the other favourites to ride into Roubaix's velodrome on his own for the most impressive victory of his career.
Winner of the prologue at the 2004 Tour de France, 25-year-old Cancellara was one of the few riders coming into 'the hell of the north' who did not seem to be overawed by defending champion Tom Boonen. These two and the other favourites stayed largely out of sight until the approach to the infamous Arenberg Forest section of cobbles with almost 100 kilometres still left to ride.
A group of four had led for most of the day and was still clear going into the Arenberg, but Cancellara's surge at the front of the chasing pack carried him past them. That surge also pulled 13 riders clear of a sizeable peloton, with Nicolas Portal the only one of the four breakaways who was able to hold on.
Among those tracking the Swiss were Boonen, Discovery Channel trio George Hincapie, Vladimir Gusev and Leif Hoste, Rabobank's Juan Antonio Flecha, Davitamon pair Peter van Petegem and Gert Steegmans, Lampre's Alessandro Ballan, and, importantly for Cancellara, his team-mate Lars Michaelsen. Crucially, Boonen had no Quick Step allies to defend him.
Over the next 50km there was plenty of sparring, but the group stayed compact until Hincapie suffered a 'Hellish' moment. On the long section of cobbles at Mons en Pevle, he suddenly sat upright, his hands in the air, before veering off into the verge and tumbling to a halt. He made no attempt to get back on his feet, but there was no point as the front end of his frame had failed spectacularly.
Boonen immediately produced his first concerted surge, temporarily splitting the group apart, but it was another 20km before the decisive break came. It was started by Gusev, charged to the front on the cobbles at Camphin en Pvle. Sensing this might be his moment, Cancellara jumped past Boonen, Ballan and Van Petegem, and took Gusev away with him.
On Carrefour de l'Arbre's cobbles, Cancellara upped his pace again, and this time Gusev slipped back to Hoste and Van Petegem, as Boonen and the rest fell away. All that was going to stop the Swiss now was a mechanical failure.
On another day, he might have been held up at a level crossing 10km from home as a freight train created an unexpected diversion. Hoste, Van Petegem and Gusev swerved through the barriers before it arrived, while Boonen, Flecha and Ballan were just waved to a halt by a frantic marshal a second before the train arrived. Subsequently, the trio who'd gone through the barriers were disqualified but it made no difference to the identity of the winner. Cancellara had delivered on his Roubaix promise.
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) CSC 259km in 6.07.54 (42.24kph)
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 1.49
3 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre
4 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Rabobank
5 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise des Jeux 3.25
6 Steffen Wesemann (Ger) T-Mobile 5.35
7 Frdric Guesdon (Fra) Francaise des Jeux 6.31
8 Bert Roesems (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 6.44
9 Christophe Mengin (Fra) Francaise des Jeux
10 Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Cofidis 6.45