Paris-Roubaix, it has been said, always produces greatness. And little more than six months after the epic mudfest that was the memorable 2021 edition, one of the most aggressive races in history this past Sunday produced the fastest Paris-Roubaix ever.
Void of the autumn rains of 2021, this year’s race is marked by heat and dust. “That was by far the dustiest Paris-Roubaix ever,” said Adrien Petit, a French rider from the Roubaix region who finished fourth. “Sometimes I literally couldn’t see where I was going!” The dusty roads and lack of visibility also produced an overflow of crashes under the high speeds from early accelerations by some of the top teams like the British Ineos Grenadiers squad.
Meanwhile, recent Milan-San Remo winner Matej Mahorič kept the pressure on all day long by forcing the pace in an early breakaway. But in the final kilometers, Ineos continued its strong spring classics campaign, launching Dutch rider Dylan Van Baarle in the final 30 kilometers. Catching the lead group, he then made a powerful solo attack prior to the often-decisive Carrefour de l’Arbre and simply rode away from what remained of the field.
Behind the losers were many. Wout van Aert could be happy to finish second. But coming on the heels of COVID, the Belgian must wonder what would have been possible if he was truly at 100 percent. And recent Tour of Flanders winner Matthieu van der Poel was reflective when he hit the old Roubaix showers, as he once again came up short in a race that was seemingly destined for him. But Roubaix is like that. It is a race that rarely produces gifts. But that’s why winning it is always so special.
A couple of Matthieu van der Poel fans waited for hours before the start to get a glimpse of their idol.
Previous winner Niki Terpstra readies for another Roubaix.
Another former winner, Philippe Gilbert, was on the front line of the start in Compiegne. For the veteran Belgian this would be his last Roubaix as he plans to retire at the end of the season.
The pack made their way through the dust in the opening sector of cobbles in Troisvilles.
Fans support the riders as they negotiate the hazardous turn in Troisvilles.
Van Aert appeared to struggle in the early going after getting caught behind a major split. He was nearly two minutes behind in the treacherous Arenberg Forest.
Slovenian champion Matej Mahoric drives the breakaway over the Auchy-les-Orchies sector, keeping the pressure on other favorites behind.
Fans line the entire Carrefour de l’Arbre sector, fewer than 15 kilometers from the finish. This long sector is considered one of the worst, and the last place to break free.
Powering away just before the Carrefour de l’Arbre, Dylan Van Baarle powers through the dust in the final portion.
Hearing that his hero had broken away, this Wout van Aert fan let out a respective roar.
Indeed Van Aert did break free to chase after Van Baarle, but his move would come up short.
Van Baarle, quite literally, left the competition in the dust as he powered towards the finish.
Matthieu van der Poel also did his best to chase in the final kilometers.
Knowing they were beaten, Mahorič led Van Aert into the final lap around the velodrome.
Alone, Van Baarle had ample opportunity to savor his greatest victory ever.
Van der Poel enters the historic showers of the Roubaix velodrome. Many riders simply shower in their team buses, but riders who appreciate the history of the sport, still made an effort to come here.
Every stall has a plaque honoring a Roubaix laureat. Former winner John Degenkolb finished well down, but still made his way to the showers with his son.
After showering, Mathieu van der Poel sat in a stall for a long time, perhaps reflecting on a day that was Roubaix.