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Ten takeaways: breaking down a brutal edition of Paris-Roubaix

How a criminally underrated rider won one of the hardest-ever editions of Paris-Roubaix

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Paris-Roubaix, aka the Hell of the North, produced a thrilling (and utterly confusing) edition that delivered underdog Dylan van Baarle to an unlikely, but dominant, victory ahead of Wout van Aert and Stefan Küng. The win capped off an impressive strategy from Van Baarle’s Ineos team who decided to take the race to the favorites like Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel by blowing the race up with over 200-kilometers to race and before a single cobbled sector was ridden. The move left Ineos with their full team at the front while many of the pre-race favorites were forced to furiously chase for nearly the entire scorching fast 5.5-hours race. This meant Van Baarle could save energy upfront and allowed him to pick the others apart by riding clear with 18-kilometers to go. His surge built up enough of a gap to let him soak up the adoration of the fans as he entered the Roubaix Velodrome for the biggest win of his impressive, if not criminally underrated, career.

Top Ten:
1) Dylan van Baarle +0
2) Wout van Aert +1’’47
3) Stefan Küng +1’47
4) Tom Devriendt +1’47
5) Matej Mohorič +1’47
6) Adrien Petit +2’27
7) Jasper Stuyven +2’27
8) Laurent Pichon +2’27
9) Mathieu van der Poel +2’34
10) Yves Lampaert +2’59

The race, which I’ve had to watch and re-watch to understand, was both thrilling and utterly confusing, so I’ve broken down the key points to Van Baarle’s eventual victory for those with better things to do:

Roubaix Race Notebook:

211km-to-go: The race started off incredibly fast, and long before the peloton hits the first cobbled sector, a few teams (oddly including Jumbo) have riders at the front creating echelons in the crosswinds.

209km: The high pace and crosswinds create a split in the group that quickly opens up into a significant gap. Many of the major contenders, like Van Aert and Van der Poel, are caught behind, and despite the entire Ineos team riding away from them, don’t seem particularly concerned or willing to bridge across the gap even as the opportunity to get on terms closes with every passing second.

205km: Ineos has their entire 7-man team in the front group and as soon as they realize the opportunity they have been given, get to the front to blow the race up in the crosswinds before they even hit the cobbles. This blows the gap from 20-seconds with 210km to double that just 4kms later.

152km: The peloton approaches the first cobblestone sector with the gap blown out to 1’15, but the chase gets a huge swing in their favor when Ganna has a mechanical.

150km: To show how key Ganna was to this group, the gap has plummeted down to 31-seconds over just 2kms.

146km: Ganna impressively gets back to the front as they hit the first cobbled sector, but things start to go off the rails for Ineos when a crash just a few moments later takes out Magnus Sheffield and holds up a few of their other riders.

133km: I’ve watched this race close to three times at this point and am still a little fuzzy on the blow-by-blow of this sector, but in short, things were FUBR. The front group splits up due to cobbles and crashes, while the chase group, who nearly caught the front group, loses time as they are held up by multiple crashes at the front. Ineos, who just a few kms before had the race under control, has lost their numerical advantage to Quickstep at the front.

127km: A QuickStep controlled elite front group forms (containing Dylan Van Baarle) while the chase group gels back into a massive peloton.

112km: Mohorič and a few others smartly slip off the front on a paved section in-between cobbled sectors.

94km: By the time they hit the Arenberg forest, the small Mohorič group has 55-seconds on the former lead group, while the main peloton lags 1’45 behind. Disaster strikes for QuickStep when Ballerini flats, which means quickstep, who were happy with the situation, are in a tough spot and now have to start chasing. Van Aert struggling due to a mechanical issue

72km: Ineos, who was in complete control before the cobbles, has missed out on the front group and has to use the four riders they have in the ‘peloton’ to lead the chase. The gap is still at 2’01 and Van Aert is present and appears to be the stronger rider in the group, so they have their work cut out for them.

58km: Jumbo comes to the front with Van Aert and the gap goes down to 1’44.

56.8km: After a series of mechanicals, Wout has gotten a new bike and is getting more and more aggressive in the chase group. The gap to the leaders is down to 1’27. Also, this clip shows us just how unusual Roubaix is since when we look at the front of this pack, we see the eventual top two finishers setting pace, Van Aert and Van Baarle, instead of hiding in the wheels.

46km: Van Aert is isolated while Ineos and Alpecin have two rides each, so he decides to attack on the Mons en Pévèle. While he looks incredibly good over the cobbles, he is eventually pegged back. But, his accelerations decant the group and isolate Van der Poel.

39km: Van Aert suffers another puncture and is forced to change his bike yet again and chase back on.

37km: The gap between the leaders and the chase group holds at 36-seconds when Mohorič has a mechanical and is forced to pull over to get a wheel change. This changes the game and means the front will come back together before the finish.

36.2km: Van Aert catches back onto the chase group, where Ineos is the only team with team riders (Van Baarle and Ben Turner).

34km: Stefan Küng smartly attacks right after Van Aert makes contact. Van Aert easily responds but makes a huge mistake by freewheeling up to the two attackers instead of counter-attacking and potentially riding solo to the win.

29.9km: Van Aert’s decision to not attack comes back to haunt him since, as the strongest rider in the group, he is then forced to nail every attack. Eventually, he decides to call his co-riders bluff and lets a small group containing Mohorič and Lampaert to get a small gap.

29km: And a few moments later, Van Baarle, with help due to blocking/marking from his teammate Turner, rides clear of the group to join Lampaert and Mohorič, who have ridden off the front.

22.5km: Van Aert attacks with Küng and flies across the gap to Jasper Stuyven while Van der Poel can’t respond and falls behind.

18.5km: Van Baarle, likely due to his presence in the front group nearly all day, has the energy to ride clear of Mohoric and Lampaert on a rough cobbled sector. The race is over right at this point since it is very difficult to gain time on a leader after this point.

7km: With the gap to Van Baarle at 1’03 and the Küng/Van Aert chase group close behind at 1’11, Lampaert clips a fan while dangerously riding on the paved section on the side of the road. At this point, it is clear Van Baarle will stay clear, the two chase groups will merge and the 4 rider chase group will sprint for second place.

Finish: Van Baarle rides into the Roubaix velodrome to win with a massive 1’47 gap to the chasers, while Van Aert easily wins the sprint for 2nd and Küng gets a surprising 3rd place.

Ten Takeaways:

1) Van Baarle is turning into a bonafide one-day star

  • He has been knocking on the door for a long time and finally gets the big win.
  • And, over the last seven months, he is the best rider at major one-day races while getting almost no credit for it.
  • For example, he has finished 2nd at the World Road Race Championships, 2nd at Flanders, and now 1st at Paris-Roubaix. No other rider has been more consistent at those events over the same period.
  • Due to Wout’s presence in the lead group, Van Baarle had to go solo in order to win. This moment with 18km-to-go is where he technically won the race, but the setup point, when he bridged up to Mohorič and Lampaert with 28km-to-go, was the most important moment of his race.
  • And the fact that his Ineos team held off the chasing group with Van der Poel and Van Aert from almost the beginning of the race allowed him to expend significantly less energy than the other favorites, and is likely what allowed him to ride clear and hold them off over the final 18kms.

2) Wout van Aert’s day was both highly impressive and highly disappointing

  • Despite coming off of COVID and missing key pre-Roubaix races, Van Aert looked like one of the stronger riders in the race and was in the perfect position to win even after a few major tactical blunders and countless mechanicals.
  • However, slight mistakes from his Jumbo team, namely creating a split early on and leaving him in the group behind, which left him isolated and vulnerable in the finale combined with his hesitation when a counter-attack could have gotten him clear, was his downfall.
  • This has to be frustrating, especially since his new-and-improved Jumbo team looked a lot like his old Jumbo team, but this was his best career Roubaix result and potentially even his most complete Monument performance of his career (even though he won the 2020 Sanremo).

3) Stefan Küng is now a legit classics riders

  • The big Swiss rider has evolved from a time trial specialist to a legitimate one-day contender. After almost no results of note from 2015-2021, he has picked up a 5th at Flanders, 3rd at E3, and 3rd at Roubaix in 2022 alone.

4) Filippo Ganna is a future Roubaix winner

  • The other time trial specialist turned Classics contender, Ganna, looked better than anyone else when going full speed over the cobblestones.
  • Unfortunately, he suffered multiple mechanicals that forced him to burn his best matches at inopportune moments and used valuable energy prying open the gap to the chase group between 210km and 150km-to-go.
  • We will never know what would have happened had things played out differently, but after watching Ganna chase over the cobblestones, I’m convinced he has the ability to win this race in the near future.

5) Matej Mohorič had arguably the most impressive ride of the day

  • His day started early when he was taking pulls in the original split with 210km-to-go, didn’t hesitate to pull through after rolling off the front with a small group with 112km, drove the breakaway until they were caught with 37km-to-go, but failed to skip a beat and wasted no time attacking again to get clear with 29km-to-go.
  • Even after these ‘failed’ mammoth efforts, he finished in 5th place.
  • While this was hugely impressive, it is interesting to imagine what would have happened if he would have sat in and waited like Van Baarle. Judging by his seemingly endless well of strength, it is difficult to imagine anyone matching a fresher version of him over the final 20kms.
  • To put his performance into perspective, only three riders have ever won MSR and PR in the same year (1908 Cyrille Van Hauwaert, 1986 Sean Kelly, 2015 John Degenkolb) and he came incredibly close to being only the fourth rider to do so with an extra week added in between the two events.

6) Ineos had a bold plan and it paid off

  • The British squad, who formerly dominated grand tours, brought their calculated strategy of whittling down the race early until only a few contenders remained. As reader/commenter David Burkett pointed out before the race, this strategy has failed them in recent grand tours due to stronger riders capitalizing, but in the classics, it is harder for even the best riders to ‘poach’ their work.
  • In theory, this was a high-risk strategy, but in practice, it was the only way to win since taking a ‘fresh’ Van der Poel or Van Aert to the line wouldn’t have worked out for them and allowed them to get ahead of the race and get multiple riders into the final lead group.
  • In some ways, the quick crumbling of their numbers in the lead group could be lead us to believe their effort to split the race was a failure, but, in the end, it allowed Van Baarle to get ahead of the race and left him much fresher in the final cobbled sections versus his competition, which had to chase back on over multiple cobbles sections.
  • The team was purposely cagey about their leadership strategy to the point that no one seemed to know who they were riding for. This made them incredibly hard to mark, but re-watching the race, it appears they always knew Van Baarle was their preferred leader since he was sitting back while Ganna and Michał Kwiatkowski were being used to pry open the early gap.
  • This win cements the former grand tour team as a new Classics powerhouse. While they have struggled on the Cobbles throughout their entire run, but in a shocking twist, have now won the last three Classics and have looked in total control of them over the course of the last week. Most impressively, in each of the last two big wins, Amstel and Roubaix, they have used superior numbers to outride stronger individuals.

7) Quickstep is a team in crisis

  • The former powerhouse just wrapped up the worst Cobbled season in the history of the team (only a single podium placing across the entire Cobbled run).
  • And even worse is that outside of Kasper Asgreen, they don’t have super talented stars that look like they can compete for wins against the uber-talented Classics fields.
  • Yves Lampaert was in third place when he had a collision with the spectator, but even if this wouldn’t have happened, he likely wouldn’t have finished higher than 6th place. Also, as has been the theme for the team this year, he was isolated at the front of the race, where in years past the team has had strength in numbers.
  • The team’s only finishers inside the top 40 places, Lampaert, and Florian Senechal, are good riders, but only have a single Monument podium between the two of them. This shouldn’t be the vanguard of an elite Classics squad.

8) Jumbo & Alpecin made their days harder by failing to respond early

  • It still isn’t clear to me exactly what happened when Jumbo helped to split the peloton in the crosswinds while key members, like Wout van Aert, were at the back.
  • Also, Jumbo and Alpecin’s responses, where they seemed to not have a care in the world and were content to let Ineos ride away, meant they were on the back foot and had to chase essentially all day.
  • This is an incredibly strange choice since they had a small window to respond and, at Roubaix, the equation is simple, riding at the front is easier than chasing from behind.
  • In the end, the extra work they expended doing so likely cost them a potential win.

9) Mathieu van der Poel’s patchy spring finally caught up with him

  • Despite a run of impressive results, including a win at Flanders, I’ve questioned the depth of Van der Poel’s form due to his unusual Spring preparation that saw him miss significant training and racing until Milano-Sanremo.
  • I believe this lack of training and racing left him slightly undercooked and the nearly 6-hours of full-gas riding on Sunday finally exposed this.

10) The days of the classics specialist are over

  • While we used to get multiple Belgians who specifically targeted the spring classics at the front of Roubaix, no rider in the top three could be defined as a specific classics rider (Van Baarle is talented over nearly any terrain, Van Aert can win almost any race and Küng is a time trialist).
  • I believe this stems from the increasing difficulty of these races producing the best riders, not necessarily the ones who make a career out of these races.
  • For example, this was one of the hardest I’ve ever seen. It was full-on from roughly 220-kilometers to go until the finish line, which rewarded raw talent, strength, and fitness instead of specific skills over the cobblestones.