Sky riders Geraint Thomas and Sir Bradley Wiggins came the closest to a British win in cycling’s top one-day Classic, Paris-Roubaix, in a decade but finally had to settle for seventh and ninth respectively on Sunday.
Following a six-hour battle across the back roads and rutted cobbled farm tracks of northern France, with just 6km (3.7 miles) left to the finish the two Sky team-mates formed part of a group of 11 leaders which – had it remained together – could well have led to the two Britons battling for the win.
However, a late break by Dutch contender Niki Terpstra ended with the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider taking a lone victory. Both Thomas and Wiggins were then swamped by their rivals in the final sprint at Roubaix velodrome.
Wiggins’ ninth, though, was still the best result for a Tour de France winner in Paris-Roubaix since the American Greg LeMond finished in the same position in 1992. In 2004, Briton Roger Hammond was denied victory only in the sprint. The race is so technically challenging and arduous it is extremely rare for non-specialists such as Wiggins, who last cycled the event in 2011, to take part.
Better than the two Britons’ results was the way that both were major factors in the race. This was in stark contrast to previous deeply uneven performances by Sky at Paris-Roubaix and despite Ian Stannard, Sky’s most successful northern Classic racer in 2014, being unable to take part because of injury.
At one point Thomas made a lengthy breakaway with four-times Roubaix winner Tom Boonen that, with just a little more collaboration from the other participants, could have stayed clear to the finish.
Wiggins despite puncturing twice and spending valuable energy in regaining contact in the main peloton, constantly shadowed the other challengers to give Thomas a chance of success.
After Terpstra broke away, with the front group battered and shredded by crashes, attacks, mechanical incidents and kilometre after kilometre of bone-joltingly rough farm cobbles, Wiggins once again attempted to go clear and then made a last-ditch challenge for a podium result with a late attack inside the velodrome.
The Briton’s efforts did not pay off. But regardless of the result, Wiggins once again proved his versatility and showed he can excel in another kind of bike racing.
As well as his Tour de France win in 2012, Wiggins has won four Olympic gold medals, three in the velodrome.
“I’ve proved I’m not a one- trick pony again, it’s a shame there’s not another one of these next week,” he said. “I feel a tinge of disappointment because I really had the legs, I felt strong. But it was a real honour to be in the final, it confirms I can match those guys. I’m just pleased I committed to it. I didn’t bottle it and I’d love to come back again next year.”Reuse content