Dominant van der Poel Wins Paris-Roubaix with Brilliant 60km Solo

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

The safest bet in the history of gambling, as sure as putting money on the sun rising tomorrow, was that Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) would win Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. It was a sure thing not only because he is a once-in-a-generation talent, perhaps the best pure Classics rider ever, but also because the only riders capable of beating him on their best day were not in the race. His arch-rival Wout van Aert (Visma– Lease a Bike) is injured, as is Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick Step), and Tadej Pogacar is preparing for the Tour de France.

As third-place finisher Mads Pedersen of Lidl-Trek put it after the race: “Mathieu van der Poel was just leagues better than the rest of us today. To finish on the podium is almost a win.” Pedersen finished a whopping 3 minutes behind the winner, and was beaten to second place by van der Poel’s teammate Jasper Philipsen, in a repeat of the Alpecin’s one-two finish in last year’s race.
In addition, van der Poel is the ideal rider for a race like the so-called Hell of the North, which demands stamina and, especially, superior bike-handling, which he has from his many years riding cyclocross. Also, for some reason he never seems to suffer flat tires or other mechanical issues, for which the dreadful cobblestones of the Paris-Roubaix are infamous.

Finally, he has a marvelous team to support him, and they proved it once again on Sunday, controlling much of the race, riding hard to reduce the size of the group around him, controlling all possible breakaways and, after he had set out on his winning 60km solo ride, keeping possible chase groups in check, with the redoubtable Gianni Vermeersch seeming to be everywhere at once as he patrolled and policed the race.

It was a superb collaboration of rider and team, a perfect demonstration of how to win a Classic as demanding as the Paris-Roubaix and, in passing, how to conquer those nasty cobblestones. Fortunately they were mostly dry and, once Alpecin-Deceuninck had reduced the size of the lead group, with 150km to ride in the 259.7km race, the chances of a mass crash that might take van der Poel down had been greatly reduced.

Yes, there were a few crashes – there are always a few crashes these days in a bike race – but most of them were not serious and none on the Arenberg. On the other hand, there was a plague of flat tires and other mechanical issues, with Jasper Philipsen, van der Poel’s lieutenant and the team’s plan B in case an accident befell the favorite, also having a flat. But such was Alpecin’s control of the race that he was back in the lead group just minutes after getting a new bike from the team car.

As for the chicane added to the beginning of the Arenberg cobblestone section, which raised such a stir: it worked the way it was supposed to. The round-about runup to those nasty cobbles, which included a U-turn, may have appeared unnatural, but it slowed down the riders, who in the past had hit the cobblestones at speeds of 60kph and higher.

That didn’t prevent this iteration from being the fastest Paris-Roubaix ever ridden, with van der Poel clocking an average speed of 47.802 km/h, beating the previous record of 46.841 km/h, set by van der Poel last year. As an indication of just how fast this race was run, the riders covered 54.7km in the first hour, which is faster than Bradley Wiggins’ hour record of 54.526km, set last year on the track (but since eclipsed by Filippo Ganna).

The speed of the race was primarily down to a strong tailwind and the pressure put on the peloton by Alpecin-Deceuninck and Lidl-Trek to keep a breakaway in check. When Alpecin upped the speed again on the second cobblestone section, with 150km to go in the race, it reduced the peloton to a group of about 40 riders. Then it was just a matter of time before van der Poel would put on his Superman suit and fly away.