Norway's Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Germany's John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) took the spoils - but there were no end of flashpoints during an intriguing, if a little subdued, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix campaign.
King Kristoff proves his versatility
"The new Boonen is Norwegian," ran the headline in Het Nieuwsblat. In the absence of the Belgian totem, Kristoff had taken the Ronde van Vlaanderen by the scruff of its neck. Coming into the race on the back of three wins in three days at De Panne, Kristoff was touted as a favourite should Flanders come down to a sprint - which made what he did all the more impressive.
Being the strongest finisher in a select group and then attacking with 30 kilometres to go was either a huge gamble or the sign of a supremely confident man. It was also evidence that Kristoff can read a race: he knew Niki Terpstra's attack on the Kruisberg could prove decisive, and rather than wait for his rivals to respond, he jumped on the Dutchman's wheel and did it himself.
Kristoff proved too strong for his Etixx-QuickStep counterpart in the finale, then added another win at Scheldeprijs three days later. A top-10 finish in Roubaix capped a stunning spring campaign for Kristoff. While things are up the air for Katusha there's no doubt about the future of their stand-out rider, who will be one of the men to beat in the battle for the Tour de France's green jersey.
Giant have a fight on their hands to keep hold of Degenkolb
It's often been a tale of two Germans at Giant-Alpecin with John Degenkolb and Marcel Kittel both vying to be the team's main man. With eight Tour stage wins in the past two years, Kittel has eclipsed Mark Cavendish as the peloton's fastest pure sprinter. But during the same period Degenkolb - also 26 - has proved to be a far more rounded rider.
If Kittel's stomping ground has been the Tour then the same could be said with Degenkolb and the Vuelta, with nine stage wins from two editions in 2012 and 2014. Last year Degenkolb showed more than a glimpse of his classics stature with victory in Gent-Wevelgem and second place in Paris-Roubaix.
That potential has now been realised with the German becoming the first rider since Sean Kelly in 1986 to secure a rare Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix double. Seventh place in Flanders in between suggests he could well add the Ronde to his swelling palmares one day - all while team-mate Kittel has been struggling for form with a lingering illness.
Degenkolb's contract at Giant runs out in 2016 but there has already been reports of Etixx-QuickStep - the ultimate classics team - sniffing around. Who better to take the reins from Boonen than a man who seems even more of an heir apparent than Kristoff?
Etixx prove power-in-numbers isn't everything
To say Etixx's cobbled classics campaign was a failure would be a trifle harsh given their handful of podium positions. But while second places in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Niki Terpstra - ahead of Boonen and Stijn Vandenbergh), E3 Harelbeke (Zdenek Stybar - ahead of Matteo Trentin), Gent-Wevelgem (Terpstra - with Vandenberg fourth), Flanders (Terpstra) and Roubaix (Stybar), success for such an ambitious (and heavily remunerated) team is measured in wins - and Cavendish's Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne scalp was their only outright triumph of the spring.
Time and again we saw the likes of Guillaume Van Kiersbulck, Vandenbergh and Trentin burying themselves - but to no end: Terpstra and Stybar just didn't have what it took to finish things off. The rise of Yves Lampaert gives long-term hope very different from the short-term boon of a returning Boonen. But just one monument win in almost three years piles the pressure on Etixx ahead of the Ardennes week.
Wiggins deserves applause but Rowe is the future
Bravo, Bradley - you gave it your all. But gutsy solo attacks - however promising - can't make up for poor form and a lack of race practice. It was always going to be a big ask to turn a rider who thrives on calculation and numbers into the winner of a race as unpredictable and demanding as Paris-Roubaix.
Bradley Wiggins, bless him, gave it his best shot - both this year and last year. And it's telling that he was not the best Sky rider on either occasion: in 2014 Geraint Thomas finished two places higher in the top ten, while fellow Welshman Luke Rowe capped an outstanding display with a top 10 in the Roubaix velodrome last Sunday.
Since Bernard Hinault won Roubaix in 1981, only two riders have followed up a Grand Tour success with victory in a spring classic (Laurent Fignon in San Remo in 1988/89; Bjarne Riis in Amstel Gold in 1997). Neither of those came on the cobbles.
So, yes, it was always a huge ask for Wiggins. And his exciting attack with 32km remaining on Sunday showed that the bearded veteran was definitely going to give it his best shot. But in the end it was Sky's highly promising Rowe, freshly turned 25, who eclipsed his retiring team-mate by securing eighth place - one better than Wiggo's best ever Roubaix finish.
Alongside Thomas and Ian Stannard, Rowe has already proved himself to be at the fulcrum of Sky's classics squad. He will be key should Sky ever go on to win the monument that eludes them.
Plains, trains, automobiles...
In Flanders we saw two shocking incidents involving the Shimano neutral service car, with Trek's Jesse Sergeant knocked off his bike at top speed and FDJ's Sebastien Chavanel hit by his own team car following a collision with the Shimano vehicle in the race convoy.
That was always going to take some beating - and the organisers, riders and a strong tailwind almost combined to pull off a far worse series of events at Roubaix when the barriers came down on the road at a train crossing. With just one helpless gendarme manning the crossing, almost 60 riders managed to either duck under the falling barriers or dart across the tracks once the road had been closed - some of them narrowly avoiding the on-coming TGV train to Paris.
While the race commissaires took no action, the French state railway company SNCF have called for police action. The UCI have described the incident as "extremely worrying" and has requested a comprehensive report. In the past, riders have been disqualified for such transgressions, but it seems the sheer volume of offenders put the race organisers in a bit of a quandary.
There's no doubt it probably made for interesting viewing on one of the on-board bike cameras - but such safety concerns is perhaps something Velon should be addressing too. After all, a week earlier, Velon released a video of Flanders action that seemed to both encourage and celebrate risky manoeuvres by riders mounting the curb and passing perilously close to spectators, parked cars and flower beds.
Something should be done before we have another tragedy on our hands.
Back to the drawing board for Sagan
If last year's travails could be put down to Peter Sagan's disenchantment at Cannondale and the rumours of his shift to Tinkoff-Saxo, then what about this year? Sure, the weight of expectation must have been huge - and the turmoil at Tinkoff (including the sacking of Bjarne Riis, the man who was meant to add tactics to Sagan's armoury) can't have helped.
But no one could have expected such an abject start to the season for a rider who was once tipped to be the sport's biggest star. Two fourth-place finishes in San Remo and Flanders was an improvement on last year's 10th and 16th but a step down from 2013, when he finished runner-up in both monuments.
In Flanders, Sagan showed his strength when he latched on to Greg Van Avermaet's attack on the Paterberg, and yet with nothing left in the tank, the 25-year-old failed to make the podium. In Roubaix, bar one little dig with around 40km remaining, Sagan was barely a factor en route to finishing 23rd.
His demise is all the more curious when you think how it was Sagan - and not the likes of Kristoff and Degenkolb - who, only a few years ago, was tipped for greatness. He's like that big boy at school who was fast tracked into the rugby team because of his sheer bulk but was then found out once his peers caught up and then dwarfed him for size.
The Slovakian sensation is finding himself in the mix at the business end of a race, but doesn't have what it takes right now to become a contender. Despite having all the right brushes at his disposal, what Sagan's putting on the canvas is just a bit of a mess. The question is, will he find the green paint in time for the Tour?
Van Avermaet may never win a monument
For a long time, Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet was a rider who would shine during the classics before fading in the final moments - much like Sagan today. But fourth places in the Ronde in 2012 and Roubaix in 2013 suggested that the BMC man had what it took to win a monument. Pipped by Fabian Cancellara in Oudenaarde last year, Van Avermaet rode aggressively on the cobbles this year to notch two more podium spots.
His attack on the Paterberg with Sagan in Flanders was not enough to reel in Kristoff and Terpstra, while no one was ever going to beat Degenkolb once the German powerhouse stamped on the pedals in the Roubaix velodrome. But while Degenkolb cried tears of joy, it was tears of sorrow for Van Avermaet on Sunday after another chance went begging.
Now 29, and with a new breed of Belgian rider coming through, and a current crop of potent favourites in Kristoff and Degenkolb, Van Avermaert may never have a better chance to open his monument account on the cobbles. The perennial contender may just never be a winner.
Boonen's absence gives Belgium a glimpse of the future
With the cobbled high priest out of action, two Belgian tyros came through Holy Week with flying colours. Making his debut in Flanders, 21-year-old Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal) finished fifth to outdo the maiden Ronde performances of both Boonen (24th in 2002, aged 22) and Cancellara (73rd in 2003, also 22).
A week later, Yves Lampaert underlined his potential with a top 10 in Roubaix for Etixx. Seen as his nation's (and team's) long-term successor to Boonen, the 24-year-old was part of the race's decisive break with countryman Van Avermaert before burying himself for team-mate Stybar on the final lap in the velodrome.
Victory earlier in the season in Driedaagse West-Vlaanderen shows that Lampaert has a winning mentality. Belgian fans also have high hopes for 25-year-old Topsport rider Jelley Wallays, who last month emphatically won the Dwars door Vlaanderen - nor should we forget the aggressive riding of 25-year-old national champion Jens Debuscherre of Lotto Soudal. Exciting times ahead.
Vanmarcke must move on from his week to forget
LottoNL-Jumbo are the only WorldTour team without a win this season after Sep Vanmarcke - from whom so much was expected - failed to deliver on the cobbles.
In Flanders, Vanmarcke failed to make the selection on the Taaienberg before finishing outside the top fifty in Oudenaarde, prompting disgruntlement from some of the Belgian media. "What results did Vanmarcke actually have to earn his status [as a favourite]?" asked Het Laatste Nieuws (after all, for all his aggression, Vanmarcke had only finished fifth in Omloop, fifth in E3 Harelbeke and sixth in Gent-Wevelgem).
The 26-year-old looked more of a contender in Roubaix and managed to set the torch paper alight with an attack on the Bourghelles a Wannehain cobbled sector inside the final 40km. But just as he provoked his fellow favourites into action, an untimely puncture did for Vanmarcke's chances. 11th place is scant consolation for a rider of his class, who will have to draw a line under the disappointments and bounce back stronger.
This was not a vintage cobbled classics campaign
Let's be honest - when the most drama came from two car collisions and a narrow miss with a TGV then you know that the actual bike racing has left the spectators a bit underwhelmed. Perhaps that's over-egging the pudding a little, but until the final 40 kilometres of both Flanders and Roubaix, there was little to get excited about. Perhaps it was the clement weather or the absence of the two major protagonists who have traditionally provided the entertainment - but 2015 was not one for the VHS back catalogue.
Felix Lowe - external@saddleblazehttps://twitter.com/saddleblazeNone