April 9, 2023
Paris-Roubaix 2023 – Compiègne – Roubaix : 256,6 km
Bienvenue en enfer, welcome to hell. That’s the message that greets the riders when they line up for the start of this epic one-day race and it couldn’t be any more appropriate –
April 9, 2023
Paris-Roubaix 2023 – Compiègne – Roubaix : 256,6 km
Bienvenue en enfer, welcome to hell. That’s the message that greets the riders when they line up for the start of this epic one-day race and it couldn’t be any more appropriate – with 30 sectors of bone-rattling cobblestones to navigate over the course of 250km, Paris-Roubaix truly is A Sunday in Hell. The race is not a descent into hell for all, however, some riders consider it a journey towards the divine, like Henri Pélissier who said this after taking his first of two victories in the event in 1919, “This wasn’t a race. It was a pilgrimage.” The race is one of cycling’s oldest, with the men’s race debuting back in 1896, and by far one of the most prestigious – earning it the nickname, the Queen of the Classics. It’s often compared to the other cobbled Monument, but in reality the two are very different. Sectors like the Trouée d’Arenberg, Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre define the race and sort the contenders from the pretenders. Each cobblestone sector is assigned a star-rating, with one star marking the easiest sectors and five stars the most brutal.
Mathieu van der Poel rode alone into the Vélodrome André-Pétrieux to continue his assault on the history books, winning Paris-Roubaix for the first time on his third attempt.
It was a typically action-packed display from the Dutchman, who was full value for the fourth Monument title of his career, but a sense of ‘what if’ will forever hang over this race – at least in the mind of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).
Van Aert had opened the race more than 100km out, and was making his bid for glory on the final five-star sector of Carrefour de l’Arbre, when the air started to drain from his tyres.
Van der Poel scrambled across the gap and then rode away from his old rival, who had to stop for a bike change before working his way back to a chase group, which he then attacked relentlessly on the run-in to Roubaix.
To add to his misery, Van Aert dropped the likes of Mads Pedersen, Filippo Ganna, and Stefan Küng, but not Van der Poel’s teammate Jasper Philipsen, a sprinter who made his Classics breakthrough here with an astounding ride.
Philipsen punched the air as they trailed Van der Poel across the finish line one lap down, before going round again and picking off Van Aert in the sprint for second place.
Van Aert, who lost teammates Dylan van Baarle and Christophe Laporte in the Arenberg Forest – to a crash and puncture respectively – had a face of thunder as he took to the podium in Roubaix. Jumbo-Visma had dominated the Spring, just not the Monuments.
“I had one of my best days on the bike,” said Van der Poel, who became the fourth rider to win Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in the same season, adding them to his two titles at the Tour of Flanders.
“I think I’ve done my best Classics season ever and to finish it off like this is a dream. It’s incredible how we rode as a team, with Jasper finishing second. It’s not possible to do better than this.”
The key moments
The 2023 Paris-Roubaix was the fastest edition in the race’s 120-year history, run off at an average speed of 46.84km/h. After a blistering breakaway-less opening 85km, the first of the 29 cobblestone sectors saw crashes and chaos, and it wasn’t long before Van Aert decided to open the race.
The move came on the four-star sector 20 from Haveluy to Wallers, with Van der Poel, Laporte, Kung, and Degenkolb the only riders able to follow. The subsequent sector was the notorious Trouée d’Arenberg, where Van Baarle crashed on entry and Laporte punctured on exit. Jumbo-Visma’s numerical advantage disappeared and was turned upside down as Philipsen and another Van der Poel teammate in Gianni Vermeersch followed Ganna and Pedersen in bridging across to make a front group of 13, including some breakaway remnants.
Laporte later attacked with Nathan van Hooydonck and Lotto-Dstny’s Florian Vermeersch, giving Van Aert an excuse not to work up front, but the ship had sailed – once again without Soudal-QuickStep – and that elite front group would ride all the way into the finale.
Having opened the race from range, Van Aert switched to a much more conservative approach as Van der Poel launched a volley of accelerations over the following sectors. He jumped on everything, and then refused to cooperate when they did threaten to go clear as a duo, and for a while it looked like he was riding the canniest race as his rival wore himself out.
Van der Poel got rid of the last breakaway hangers-on over the treacherous Mons-en-Pevele to take an elite seven into the finale, with a long lull effectively placing all the chips on the Carrefour de l’Arbre with 17km to go. It was certainly dramatic, but perhaps for the wrong reasons – first Degenkolb crashing after domino effect of bumping riders then Van Aert puncturing as he made his move in the midst of that chase.
Just when it looked like the two old foes were riding away to contest Roubaix in the latest chapter of their extraordinary rivalry, misfortunate struck and robbed Van Aert of his chance, and the race of its fitting climax.
“On the last sector I had to close the gap to Wout and I think he had a flat tyre. When I passed him, his pace was low. I knew he had a problem but didn’t know it was a flat,” Van der Poel said.
“Maybe we would have gone as two to the finish line. It’s unfortunate but it’s part of the race. You need good luck and good legs and I had both today.”
HOW IT UNFOLDED
As ever, the early battle for the breakaway was a fierce one, with rider after rider attempting to jump away at the head of the peloton on the rolling roads that took the peloton north towards the cobbled sectors.
Some big names were in the hunt and a move wouldn’t go clear until after over 80km of racing had been completed, with a group of four emerging ahead of the first cobblestone sector: Sjoerd Bax (UAE Team Emirates), Juri Hollmann (Movistar), Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech), and Jonas Koch (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Nils Eekhoff one of two riders at Team DSM using their Scope Atmoz adjustable tyre pressure system, attempted to go with them. However, the Dutchman’s chase would be fruitless, ending with a return to the peloton around 15km later.
With the cobbles came the usual crashes and mechanical problems in the peloton, with Kasper Asgreen and Florian Senechal both puncturing in what quickly turned to another nightmare for QuickStep. Ineos Grenadiers were also bruised, with magnus Sheffield crashing before Josh Tarling slipped out and wiped out Luke Rowe.
Küng and Mohoric were two more favourites who found themselves off the rear with mechanicals as the race passed the halfway point, though both would work themselves back into the peloton as the riders hit the four- and five-star sectors at Haveluy á Wallers and the Trouée d’Arenberg.
CARNAGE ON THE ARENBERG
Van Aert found himself off the rear after a puncture before getting back on swiftly. Up front, the break only held the one-minute gap they had for much of the race to this point.
On the run to Haveluy, meanwhile, a counter-attack had jumped from the peloton, with Jens Reynders (Israel-Premier Tech), Luke Durbridge (Jayco-AlUla), Miles Scotson (Groupama-FDJ), Madis Mihkels (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), and Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies) getting away.
With Van Aert back in the fold, Jumbo-Visma led the way onto Haveluy, the high pace set by the Dutch squad causing splits further back and provoking a selection at the front as an elite group caught the counter-attackers.
Van Aert was joined by teammate Christophe Laporte as well as Van der Poel, Küng, 2015 race winner John Degenkolb, and Mihkels. Heading onto the fabled Arenberg, 20 seconds lay between the day’s early break, with a further 20 back to what was left of the main peloton.
All hell broke loose on the sector through the forest, with defending champion Dylan van Baarle (Jumbo-Visma) crashing along with Asgreen and Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), while Laporte – one of the few Jumbo men using their own KAPS adjustable tyre-pressure system – punctured out of the favourites group on the harsh cobbles. Up in the break, Gee also fell victim to a tyre problem.
Former world champions Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) put in the major attack on the Arenberg, eventually joining the Van Aert-Van der Poel attack as they caught the early break on the tarmac run towards Wallers.
Behind them lay Ganna, the Alpecin-Deceuninck duo of Jasper Philipsen and Gianni Vermeersch, plus Max Walscheid (Cofidis) and Laurenz Rex (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), the quintet making it across to the lead group as the race hit the next sector at Wallers.
After a hectic and ever-changing 20km of action, and with 12 of the 30 sectors done, things began to settle down more on the road to Mons-en-Pévèle. The lead group of 13 – including Van der Poel and two teammates – lay a minute up on a solo Laporte, who was soon to be caught by the peloton behind.
With 72km to go on the Tilloy sector, Nathan Van Hooydonck went solo from the ‘peloton’ of around 30 men, 1:35 behind the lead group. Laporte and 2021 runner-up Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Dstny) joined him with Jumbo-Visma seeking to add more firepower to the lone Van Aert out front.
THE FINAL SEVEN
On the Orchies cobbles 60km out, the chasing trio had closed to a minute behind the leaders, while the peloton lay a further minute down. At the front, there was cooperation with the Alpecin-Deceuninck trio in the group, though Van Aert understandably avoided taking turns.
The Belgian’s great rival, Van der Poel, seized the sector of Auchy à Bersée to put in the first of a flurry of attacks, with Degenkolb the quickest man to take his wheel. Further back, Ganna, Walscheid and Rex chased back on while Gianni Vermeersch was dropped.
Van der Poel would try again with 47km to go on the Mons-en-Pévèle, but not before Walscheid tried to steal a march on the group with a move of his own. Van Aert and Philipsen were in close company, while Walscheid and Rex dropped for good.
For a third time, Van der Poel jumped on a rise shortly after the cobbles, and when the dust settled only an elite group of seven remained – Van der Poel, Philipsen, Van Aert, Pedersen, Küng, Ganna, and Degenkolb.
Heading into the final 40km, the chase group of Laporte, Van Hooydonck, and Florian Vermeersch were well out of it at 1:40 down, with the peloton even further back. Pont-Thibault, the 21st sector of the race, brought with it another Van der Poel attack, though the Dutchman was matched by Van Aert while also narrowly avoiding sliding out on a corner in the process.
The run from there to the final four- and five-star sectors at Camphin-en-Pévèle and the Carrefour de l’Arbre passed fairly uneventfully, though Philipsen did briefly suffer a mechanical drama before making his way back to the front. Pedersen led the way onto the Camphin-en-Pévèle, though the 1.8km sector passed without a major attack, leaving the 2.1km, five-star Carrefour de l’Arbre to host the last battle before the run to the line in Roubaix.
Philipsen led the group onto Carrefour de l’Arbre, with Van der Poel manoeuvring his way up to the front and his teammate’s wheel. Disaster struck when Philipsen moved right, squeezing Van der Poel into Degenkolb partway through the sector, knocking the German off balance. Degenkolb crashed and his chances were over.
Van Aert pushed through to the front in the disarray and turned on the pace. He was soon joined off the front by Van der Poel – of course – with the Dutchman closing a big gap in the blink of an eye before moving to the front.
Van Aert started to lose the wheel, and it soon became clear why. His rear wheel had punctured, and he had no choice but to watch his rival sail away.
After a bike change, Van Aert joined up with the chasing group but had a 26-second gap to close. He found assistance from Pedersen but very little from time trialists Küng and Ganna who did not want to tow Philipsen to his team leader.
That left Van der Poel free to gain enough time to celebrate for the entire final lap on the velodrome.
Van Aert launched a series of attacks on the run-in to drop, in turn, Ganna, Kung, and Pedersen, which only underlined his strength and sense of what might have been. However, Philipsen tagged along to rub salt in the wounds before he was forced to watch Van der Poel hoist the famous cobblestone trophy aloft.