On Sunday, riders slipped, slid, and fell on the wet cobbles of Paris-Roubaix for the first time in 20 years. In a special October edition of the “Hell of the North,” 175 riders left Paris, and only 92 of them would make it to Roubaix. The list of favorites crumbled throughout the race, as did the dreams of Gianni Moscon (Ineos Grenadiers) who suffered a puncture and crash in the space of 10km while leading the race with 25km to go.
In the final group of three, there was the expected favorite — Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) — the on-form wildcard of Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious), and the young surprise in Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal). In the end, Colbrelli triumphed in the final sprint on the Roubaix Velodrome, collapsing onto the grass after he crossed the line, and screaming like a coal worker who’s just won the lottery.
This is the 2021 Paris-Roubaix by the numbers.
Fear was perhaps the overwhelming emotion in the peloton at the start of the 118th edition of Paris-Roubaix. For the first time in two decades, the forecast called for wind and rain, not just on race day, but also in the days prior. It’s difficult to describe the race conditions in a single superlative – epic, abysmal, horrid, apocalyptic, and wet are a few that come to mind.
The inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes took place on Saturday and was won by Lizzie Deignan with an incredible 82-kilometer solo attack. From the very first cobblestone sector, the women’s peloton blew to bits due to crashes, fatigue, and general chaos. The men’s race would prove to be not too different, with the peloton thinning from 175 to less than 50 by the time most of us tuned in for live race coverage.
A large breakaway went away in the opening hour of racing, with some 29 riders going up the road, including Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R-Citröen), Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Gianni Moscon and Luke Rowe (Ineos Grenadiers), Matteo Jorgensen (Movistar), and U23 rider Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal). Before the first sector of cobbles, the lead breakaway had nearly a two-minute gap on the peloton.
It’s worth pointing out that Paris-Roubaix favors the heavy cobble rouleurs. There is hardly any elevation change throughout the entire day, and not a single climb to speak of. Heavier riders with higher raw wattage go faster on the cobblestones, and so the 1.93m tall (6’4″) and 81.5kg (180lbs) Vermeersch was right at home.
Vermeersch – establishing the breakaway with over 200km to go
Average Power: 420w (5.2w/kg)
Normalized Power: 448w (5.5w/kg)
Peak 10min Normalized Power: 470w (5.9w/kg)
Throughout the race, we can see a pattern emerge in Vermeersch’s power file: 400-470w (5-5.6w/kg) on the cobblestone sectors, and 300-370w (3.7-4.5w/kg) on the rest of the pavement. The harder the cobblestone sector, the higher Vermeersch’s power, and we saw him pushing nearly 500w on the Trouée d’Arenberg later in the race.
With 170km to go, the race approached the cobblestone sector from Troisvilles to Inchy, and though it wasn’t the roughest sector, the peloton began to split into pieces. Van Der Poel, Colbrelli, and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) stayed near the head of proceedings and dodged the mechanicals and crashes of countless behind.
Vermeersch was instrumental in driving a group of four clear from the rest of the breakaway with around 150km to go, doing his best one-hour power of the entire race. Back in the peloton, van der Poel had to chase back from another mechanical. All the while, Colbrelli enjoyed a sweet armchair ride (as sweet as it can be in these conditions) through the sectors on the wheel of his teammate, Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious).
Vermeersch – splitting the breakaway to four
Average Power: 390w (4.8w/kg)
Normalized Power: 412w (5.1w/kg)
Peak 20min Normalzied Power: 436w (5.4w/kg)
Max Power: 1,348w (16.5w/kg)
The temperature hovered around 12°C (54°F) as the race approached the infamous Arenberg Forest with 100km to go. It is the sight of so many dreams – and bones – broken on the grassy cobblestones, and this year it was lined with fans and bright yellow barriers as riders descended into Hell. What enters the wet Arenberg Forest never leaves the same, and a series of slips, falls, and mindless crashes split the race into even more pieces.
Van Der Poel accelerated in the Forest, and could only be followed by Colbrelli, Guillame Boivin (Israel Start-Up Nation), and the American Matteo Jorgenson (Team Movistar). Van Aert flagged behind, as did all the remaining Deceuninck-Quick-Step riders who had been the aggressors only a few kilometers prior. Despite having been in the breakaway for 150km, Vermeersch put 10 seconds into the chasers because he was able to avoid the crashes and confusion just a kilometer behind him.
Vermeersch – Arenberg Forest
Average Power: 457w (5.6w/kg)
Jorgenson – Arenberg Forest
Average Power: 383w (5.5w/kg)
The chaos never ceased during Paris-Roubaix, and soon Colbrelli attacked while groups broke and re-formed on every part of the road. Eventually, Moscon went solo out of the breakaway, the group of Van Der Poel, Colbrelli, and Boivin was less than a minute down, and Vermeersch was in no-man’s land between.
From 40km to 20km to go, the attacks flew on every sector as van der Poel worked to close the gap to Moscon. The Dutchman was helped by the Italian having a puncture and then a crash, and soon van der Poel finally reeled him in. It was Colbrelli who made the final catch, accelerating past Moscon and putting van der Poel on the limit. Moscon was dropped immediately, and the rest of the race was all about the leading trio: van der Poel nursing a back injury from the Olympics, Colbrelli in his first-ever Paris-Roubaix, and Vermeersch still hanging on from the early breakaway.
After five hours of racing in the cold and wet mud, Vermeersch’s power is beginning to drop, as we can see from the last few cobblestone sectors. But everyone in this race is fatiguing, including van der Poel and Colbrelli, and so Vermeersch is able to cling to their wheels through every sector.
Vermeersch – Lead group catches and drops Moscon
Average Power: 356w (4.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 378w (4.7w/kg)
Mons-en-Pévèle Sector: 433w NP (5.4w/kg) for 5:55
Carrefour de l’Arbre Sector: 411w (5.2w/kg) for 3:37
The lead group cooperated until 2.5km to go where Vermeersch attacked up the right-hand side of the road. Colbrelli was quick to snap onto his wheel, and with van der Poel for company. The Dutchman led onto the velodrome, staying at the front until Vermeersch opened up the sprint with half a lap of the Roubaix Velodrome to go. Van der Poel went high while Colbrelli stayed in the middle of the track, and the Italian pushed clear in the final few meters to take his first-ever Paris-Roubaix title. After over 200km in the breakaway, Vermeersch was still able to hit nearly 1,500w as he made his way into 2nd place on the Paris-Roubaix podium.
Vermeersch – final 6km
Average Power: 343w (4.2w/kg)
Normalized Power: 400w (4.9w/kg)
Attack at 2.5km to go: 945w (11.6w/kg) for 10 seconds
Final sprint: 1,017w (12.5w/kg) for 17 seconds
Max Power: 1,476w (18.1w/kg)
Vermeersch (2nd) – Paris-Roubaix full race (excluding neutral zone)
Average Power: 352w (4.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 385w (4.7w/kg)
Energy Burned: 7657kJs
Peak 3-hour Power:
Average Power: 377w (4.6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 400w (4.9w/kg)