In the introduction to his masterpiece The Decisive Moment, photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson famously wrote: "To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression."
The epic finale of 2016’s edition of Paris-Roubaix saw five riders enter the Roubaix velodrome together. After almost six hours of racing, with barely a single lap still to ride, the race leader, a gaunt and exhausted Tom Boonen, took a last fearful look over his shoulder . . . and saw Mat Hayman looking straight back at him. Immediately afterwards, Hayman hit the front, and the result was never in doubt.
If ever there was a Decisive Moment, in both the sporting and photographic senses, this was it – and Dan Monaghan was on hand to capture it for our cover.
But, as always in road racing, the result is far from the whole of the story.
Eurosport’s inspired decision to broadcast 2016’s edition of Paris-Roubaix in its entirety showed us – in case there was any doubt – just how much is lost when coverage of a major race is limited to the last few kilometres. Just one example: with a massive 110km to go, Katusha’s Alexander Porsev crashed, splitting the peloton. In the front group were Tom Boonen and Tony Martin of Etixx-Quickstep, both among the pre-race favourites. Stuck in the group behind were Tour of Flanders victor Peter Sagan and the mighty Fabian Cancellara, both in peak form. In a cold-blooded tactical masterstroke, Etixx-Quickstep had Tony Martin ride flat out on the front for the next thirty kilometres, sacrificing his own chances of victory, but pushing the gap between the two groups beyond the reach of even Sagan and Cancellara. But ultimately, and by the finest of margins, it was Hayman rather than Boonen who benefited. The expression on Martin’s face at the end needs no further explanation.
And, of course, the flags were out for Fabian’s farewell. Besides the frustration of missing the split, Cancellara suffered a nasty crash on the cobbles, and then suffered the embarrassment of toppling off his bike on his farewell lap of the velodrome. But he still finished his last ever Paris-Roubaix with a smile on his face and a wave to the fans.