UAE Team Emirates’ Marco Marcato achieved a season-best performance in the cobble classics after finishing 18th at Paris Roubaix on Sunday.
It was a formidable result for the Italian having improved on his 49th-place showing at the Tour of Flanders last week.
World champion Peter Sagan left his rivals in the dust after a break from 55km out saw him clinch a first victory in northern France.
The 28-year-old Slovak outsprinted Silvan Dillier, the last survivor from an earlier break, in the velodrome in Roubaix after 5hrs 54mins 06sec in the saddle.
It was a commendable performance nonetheless from Marcato, who said: “I like this race and I had enthusiasm, and the right strength to confront the race from the start to the end.
“I was able to stay with the front riders even when the best riders were attacking on the Mons en Pévèle sector. Maybe I paid a little bit from the effort I made catching the group after I had punctured.”
It was also a positive day for his UAE team-mate Sven Erik Bystrom who completed the 257km course in 26th place – ahead of Yves Lampaert, Arnaud Demare and Tony Martin.
The Norwegian said: “To be in the main escape in my first ride in Paris-Roubaix was a fantastic experience, also considering to make that move we spent a lot of energy in the first hour of the race.
“On the pavé, I had good feelings. I don’t know at this point, based on this ride, if I can come back and build a future in this big and important race.”
Meanwhile, team leader Alexander Kristoff had to settle for 57th place, after being caught in a crash with 40 kilometres remaining.
The reigning European champion, who finished in the top-10 in 2013 and 2015, said: “My Paris-Roubaix unfortunately ended when Tony Martin crashed in the middle of the group and I finished on the ground.
“Going at 60km an hour, I hit my back hard on the ground and I waited a few minutes for the pain to pass. I was able get going, though, and make it to the finish, but the top riders were already far off.”
World champion Peter Sagan left his rivals in the dust on Sunday after a break from 55km out saw him clinch a jaw dropping victory in the 257km Paris-Roubaix classic.
The 28-year-old Slovak outsprinted Swiss champion Silvan Dillier, the last survivor from an earlier break, in the iconic outdoor velodrome in Roubaix after 5hrs 54mins 06sec in the saddle.
Last week’s Tour of Flanders winner Niki Terpstra was third at 57sec and 2017 champion Greg Van Avermaet fourth at 1:34.
Victory in the ‘Hell of the North’ was a second prestigious ‘Monument’ one-day classic success for Sagan, who won the Tour of Flanders in 2016 and has three consecutive world titles.
“I feel amazing, I’m so tired, but I was involved in no crashes, had no flat tyres and I just kept going,” said Sagan, who at one point was caught on camera using an Allen key to make some on board repairs as he cycled along at more than 40km/h.
Known for his rapid finishing, Sagan has often paid for his reputation as rivals have sought to neutralise his famed kick for the line by leaving him behind with their own daring long-range bids for glory.
But this time, he had no intention of playing to the sound of anyone else’s drum and launched his victory bid with a blistering attack from 55km out on one of the 29 cobbled sections totalling more than 54km in length.
He soon stretched out a lead of more than 30-seconds over his main rivals for victory as he bounced over the cobbles.
Sagan latched onto an earlier break and soon made up a three-man group alongside Belgian Jelle Wallays and Dillier.
With 20km to go Wallays had dropped off as Sagan upped the pace and the breakaway duo pushed their lead out to 1:30.
Van Avermaet and Tersptra were slow to react and when they did they dragged the gap back down to under a minute with 13km to go.
But the chase stalled there as Sagan and Dillier dug in to ensure they had enough leeway to contest a two-up sprint finish, that Sagan was always likely to win.
Typically, the cobbles played havoc with the peloton as a number of crashes brought down riders despite the race setting off on a glorious, dry spring morning.
Belgian Michael Goolaerts was airlifted to hospital in Lille in a serious condition after being knocked unconscious in a heavy crash, according to French emergency services.
Froome’s participation at July’s Tour is in doubt due to an adverse analytical finding in a doping test during last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
If Froome is banned and misses the Tour, Thomas would likely become the Sky leader for the race.
“Where I sit in that team, I don’t know yet. I’m just concentrated on making sure I get to the starting line,” Thomas said on Saturday, ahead of Sunday’s prestigious Paris-Roubaix one-day classic.
Thomas wore yellow for four days at last year’s Tour after winning the opening prologue but he lost it to Froome after Stage 5 and crashed out of the race four days later while still sitting second overall.
The first nine stages in this year’s Tour are either flat or hilly – rather than mountainous – with the ninth stage finishing at Roubaix after taking in some bone-crunching cobbles.
It’s terrain that suits all-rounder Thomas, who has aspirations of wearing yellow again.
“That would be very nice,” he said, blushing slightly. “I wouldn’t turn that down, if it did happen that would be great.”
The Welshman has turned himself into a stage racer having previously excelled in the one-day cobbled classics.
In 2014, he finished seventh in Paris-Roubaix and eighth at the Tour of Flanders – the two major ‘Monument’ cobbled classics.
He won’t be among the favourites for Sunday’s 257km ‘Hell of the North’, which he says is tougher than the Tour of Flanders due to the state of the cobbles in northern France.
“It’s totally different to Belgium,” he said of the 54km of cobbles. “This is a lot rougher. In Roubaix, it’s like someone’s just gone along and chucked a load of stones out of the back of a truck.”
Still, the 31-year-old is looking forward to it and believes in Sky’s chances.
“You need a bit of luck and it’s fun because it’s not as controlled as the Grand Tours,” he said.
“There’s a good feeling in the team – we went out Thursday and it was pretty muddy but with the sun it’ll be dried out mainly now.
“There’s going to be a tailwind which will help, and we have a strong team, and if we trust each other we can get a good result.”