ROUBAIX, France (Reuters) - Swiss Fabian Cancellara kept his composure to win a third Paris-Roubaix title, outdoing Belgian Sep Vanmarcke in a session of track cycling tactics at the end of a 254-km ride on Sunday.
Cancellara, who won the Queen of the Classics in 2006 and 2010, entered the Roubaix outdoor velodrome, where the finish line was drawn, for 1-1/2 laps against a rival who is supposed to be the better sprinter.
Yet the RadioShack-Leopard rider, who achieved his second Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double, forced his opponent to a standstill on the velodrome as both men played mind games for position.
Vanmarcke was tricked into starting the sprint and the Blanco rider was leapfrogged on the home straight.
“There was nothing called instinct at the end, it was just a fight,” Cancellara, who started the day as the overwhelming favorite in the absence of holder and fierce rival Tom Boonen of Belgium, told a news conference.
“I went to a level sometimes you don’t know how you can do it. I went beyond my limits. I’m happy but I was probably more happy that the race was finished.
“Then I had a minute to lie down on the grass, back to planet earth. I damaged myself probably more than ever.”
“I know I’m supposed to be happy with second but right now I’m very frustrated,” said Vanmarcke.
Dutchman Niki Terpstra won a four-man sprint for third position after the OmegaPharma-Quick Step team - who were supposed to ride for Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel - and Thord Hushovd’s BMC outfit failed to mount a proper challenge around their designated leaders.
On a sunny yet cold day in northern France, the battle started early but Cancellara, who crashed earlier this week in the Scheldeprijs and again while checking out one of the 27 cobbled sections of the Paris-Roubaix, remained focused all day.
With some 135 kms left, big guns Edvald Boasson Hagen, Geraint Thomas and Taylor Phinney were in a breakaway group which was quickly chased down by Cancellara’s team.
A group of four, including 2007 winner Stuart O’Grady, had an advantage of 1:40 entering the much-feared Trouee d’Arenberg, a 2,400-metre cobbled section 96 kms from the finish.
The lead was down to just over 30 seconds after Phinney had led the bunch through the trench in impressive fashion but the American eventually vanished out of contention.
Thomas and Filippo Pozzatto of Lampre crashed on a cobbled section with 72 kms left but the Italian, second in the race in 2009, made it back into the bunch, just like Norway’s Hushovd after a third puncture.
Frenchman Mathieu Ladagnous of the FDJ team, who had an outside chance, pulled out after his second crash of the day.
France’s Damien Gaudin of Europcar also joined the leading riders but the lead shrank when Cancellara himself accelerated in front of the bunch in the Auchy-les-Orchies cobbled sector.
After the Mons-en-Pevele sector, some 15 riders emerged in front in three groups close to each other.
Vanmarcke and fellow Belgian Stijn Vandenbergh built up a decent gap in front but Cancellara made his effort in the Bourghelles-Wannehain cobbled sector with only Czech Zdenek Stybar able to follow his pace.
Stybar eventually cracked as Vanmarcke and Cancellara powered away towards their duel on the track to raucous applause from the capacity crowd.
Editing by Clare Fallon