In contrast to last October’s mud fest, the 2022 Paris-Roubaix was a dry and dusty edition, the fastest edition in history, and the race that many are saying has been the best of the year, so far. In the end, Dylan van Baarle took the biggest win of his career with second-place Wout van Aert not yet in the velodrome. It was the biggest margin of victory we’ve seen at Paris-Roubaix in many years, and by a rider that few expected to win.
With names like Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, Mads Pedersen, and Stefan Küng on the start list, few were tipping Van Baarle as a favorite despite his second place at the Tour of Flanders just two weeks prior. Van Baarle’s own teammate, Filippo Ganna, was far more in the spotlight than the Dutchman, despite Ganna’s lack of results on the cobblestones.
Van Baarle used this to his advantage – as one of the most underrated men in the peloton, Van Baarle hardly touched the win until the final hour of the race. And even then, he only ever followed moves and executed perfectly-timed counterattacks, saving precious watts until they mattered most.
In the midst of Van Baarle’s win were nearly six hours of chaos, crashes, and carnage left on the dirt-covered roads of northern France. And it all started with Ineos Grenadiers splitting the race into pieces with more than 200km to go.
Just 35km into the race, Ineos Grenadiers lined at the front of the peloton as 20kph+ crosswinds ripped across the landscape. Races favorites Van Aert and Van der Poel missed the move, along with about half the peloton. This wasn’t a breakaway, it was a split. And with 210km to go, the entire Ineos squad was in the front group including Van Baarle, Ganna, Michal Kwiatkowski, Ben Turner, and Magnus Sheffield. Also tucked in the group was Milan-Sanremo winner, Matej Mohorič, who would play a major role throughout the entire Paris-Roubaix.
Mohorič is one of the most efficient and aerodynamic riders in the pro peloton, which means that his power numbers are typically low compared to others. If you’re not quite sure, just check out his average speed.
Mohorič – making the split in the crosswinds
Average Power: 255w (3.5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 298w (4.2w/kg)
Average Speed: 48.3kph (30mph)
Peak 10-min Normalized Power: 345w (4.8w/kg) at 50kph
The 70-rider split chugged along for the better part of three hours, yet they were never able to get more than a minute and 20-second gap. A series of crashes, mechanicals, and chaos doomed the front group, and so the race was inching back together around 120km to go. It was here that Mohorič made his first major move by going clear in a group of five including Davide Ballerini (Quic-Step Alpha Vinyl), Casper Pedersen (Team DSM), Tom Devriendt (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), and Laurent Pichon (Arkéa-Samsic). Remember that name – Tom Devriendt – as he will come up later in the race.
Mohorič – counterattack with 113km to go
Average Power: 317w (4.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 331w (4.6w/kg)
Max Power: 1,005w (14w/kg)
Average Speed: 49.5kph (30.8mph)
With around 80km to go, Mohorič’s group reached the Arenberg Forest, and one of the most brutal roads in all of cycling. The infamous cobblestones are decidedly jagged, uneven, and race-ending; and it was here that the two remaining pelotons fully reintegrated. Van Aert suffered an untimely mechanical – one of many throughout the race – and had to chase back on during one of the hardest sections of the race.
Van der Poel stayed tucked in the field, saving energy compared to Van Aert and Mohorič who were eating wind for two different reasons.
Mohorič – Forest of Arenberg Forest
Average Power: 392w (5.4w/kg)
Van der Poel – Arenberg Forest
Average Power: 363w (4.8w/kg)
Average Heart Rate: 179bpm
We could tell from Van der Poel’s heart rate that he was already near his limit. Even at fewer than 5w/kg, the Dutchman was holding a heart rate that he usually only attains during 450w breakaways. With 75km to go, perhaps he already knew that he wasn’t going to win.
A few kilometers later, the breakaway’s lead had actually increased to two minutes 10 seconds while the peloton experienced its first lull since 220km to go. During this section, we can see how much energy Van der Poel and the peloton is saving compared to Mohorič, who continued to churn a huge gear in the breakaway.
Mohorič – Arenberg Forest
Average Power: 312w (4.3w/kg)
Long pulls: 2-3 minutes at 350-360w (~5w/kg)
Van der Poel – Arenberg Forest
Average Power: 243w (3.2w/kg)
Max Heart Rate: 177bpm
The lull was short-lived as Jumbo-Visma took control heading into the next few cobble sectors. Van Aert helped split the peloton, dragging a group clear that contained Van der Poel, Küng, Yves Lampaert, Jasper Stuyven, Van Baarle, and a handful of other riders. The eventual race winner made a move at Aucy-lez-Orchies, and had 30 seconds in hand at the end of the Mons-en-Pévèle sector with 45km to go.
Van Aert helped close the gap before another puncture put him 15 seconds behind. Thankfully for the Belgian, Mohorič – who was still out front – punctured as well, leaving Devriendt somehow dangling in the lead at Paris-Roubaix. And just like that, Mohorič’s lead disappeared, though he didn’t have to make another leg-sapping effort to chase back on like Van Aert.
Mohorič even attacked before the next sector at Cysoing, taking Lampaert with him and bridging up to Devriendt. Van Baarle made the solo bridge shortly thereafter, using a long and steady rhythm that wasn’t really caught by the TV cameras.
Mohorič – attack into Cysoing
Average Power: 325w (4.5w/kg)
Sector 7: 383w (5.3w/kg) for 2:27
Riders in the chase group began capitulating as the 58.5km of Paris-Roubaix pavé began to take their toll. Every rider was gritting their teeth in the finale, including Van Aert and Van der Poel who are known for their stone-cold facial expressions.
In looking at the power data from Paris-Roubaix, it looks like it wasn’t that hard of a race. 300w for five and a half hours – that’s roughly what it took to finish Top 10 at the “Hell of the North” this year. Compared with Amstel Gold, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and the Tour of Flanders, this is 50-70w less than the races that are supposedly a preview for the big show.
But what can never be underestimated is the brutality of the cobblestones. Riders say that it takes longer for their hands to recover than their legs. The jarring vibrations from the cobblestone send a signal of distress to the rider’s body, begging them to stop. After nearly six hours of racing over the cobblestones, it’s no wonder why nearly every rider collapses onto the grass infield of the Roubaix velodrome.
Van der Poel – Sectors 11-4
Average Power: 312w (4.2w/kg)
Normalized Power: 337w (4.5w/kg)
11: Mons-en-Pévèle (215km): 361w for 4:42
10: Mérignies to Avelin: 269w for 0:48
9: Pont-Thibault to Ennevelin: 320w for 2:01
8: Templeuve – Moulin-de-Vertain: 318w for 1:56
7: Cysoing to Bourghelles: 305w for 2:11
6: Bourghelles to Wannehain: 332w for 1:43
5: Camphin-en-Pévèle: 340w for 2:48
4: Carrefour de l’Arbre: 362w for 3:07
When Van Aert and Küng went across to Stuyven’s counter a few kilometers later, we finally realized that Van der Poel didn’t have his magical legs from Flanders. The Dutchman could hardly react after the trio went clear, but fought all the way to the Roubaix velodrome to claim a top 10 finish. He even caught Pichon, Stuyven, and Adrien Petit after it looked like his legs fell off a cliff.
Van der Poel – final 15km of Paris-Roubaix
Average Power: 305w (4.1w/kg)
Average Speed: 43.8kph (27.2mph)
Van Baarle wasn’t with the lead breakaway for long, as he soon dropped every rider off his wheel. There was no snap-attack or out of the saddle sprint – Van Baarle simply rode away from Matej Mohorič and Yves Lampaert on the Camphin-en-Pévèle.
Mohorič continued to push on and looked to be fighting Lampaert for second place until the Belgian was taken out by a clapping spectator standing on the road, although he would remount and still finish 10th. Van Aert and Küng caught the Slovenian, as well as Devriendt, but even the four couldn’t put a dent into Van Baarle’s lead with 15km to go.
It’s safe to say Van Baarle was definitely pushing over 300w on his way to victory, continuing to pull away from the chase group being driven by Van Aert and Küng, neither of who are slouches on the flats. With an average speed of 45.8kph, Van Baarle crossed the line to win the fastest-ever Paris-Roubaix, and on the podium, kissed the winner’s cobblestone for the first time in his career. At 29 years old, with a decade of WorldTour experience under his belt, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Van Baarle win a few more monuments.
Mohorič – final 30km of Paris-Roubaix
Average Power: 310w (4.3w/kg)
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava