With Paris-Roubaix it is always the same question: where to start?
Maybe we should start with the rifts that formed during the race less than 50km to go, when cross winds started blowing through the fresh, fluttering green foliage and Ineos Grenadiers sent seven runners overhead, including a ball. by human demolition Filippo Ganna.
With the fact that Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Stefan Küng were all caught taking a nap (or peeing). With the extraordinary spectacle of Christophe Laporte, captured by a spectator’s phone, swerving in half on a semi-collapsed rear wheel, one foot out like a boy on a scooter.
Or maybe we should start with obsessive planner Matej Mohorič, who attacked in front of the Arenberg forest as if he knew something that everyone else didn’t. Or even with the absolute madness of that same infernal cart track, which for one day a year turns into a mixture of picnic place and absurd sports amphitheater.
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Or with Mons-en-Pevèle, that often overlooked but crucial five-star cobblestone sector 50km from the end, where Dylan van Baarle pressed the accelerator, walked away in the dust from the second group on the road and began his journey to Gloria Paris-Roubaix.
Or with the punctures for Van Aert, for which Covid-19 seemed just the memory of a cold while remembering the extraordinary exploits of riding his body is capable of, or the stray arm that led Yves Lampaert to stop with blows. of tanks the penultimate pavement of Hem.
Or the fact that the blue sky and constant downwind made this Roubaix the fastest ever: 257.2 km in 45.79 km / h. Or Lewis Askey’s mangled knee, dripping blood through the bandages, down his muddy calf and onto the inside grass. “That is fine?” a spectator asked him. “No … I don’t think it is,” he replied stoically as the adrenaline gave way to agony.
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There is simply no other race like Paris-Roubaix. All the rules of modern cycling are temporarily withdrawn, the race narrative spins faster than a rogue stone pierces a thin rubber flank.
“Classic Roubaix,” said Luke Durbridge as he headed for the old-fashioned concrete showers that have become a rite of passage for any cyclist arriving at the velodrome. “Breakaway never went, group splits, accidents, punctures, people everywhere, I had no idea where we were half the time with the dust.”
Winning Bahrain driver Fred Wright said he had to keep getting back in the Astana team car simply to ask what was going on. Stefan Küng, who finished third, admitted he had no idea where he was for most of the race.
“After the first stretch of paving we continued to keep up with the guys, and at certain moments I thought, are we leading the race now? Are there still any kids down the street? “
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Even the winner, Van Baarle, couldn’t believe that when he entered the Roubaix velodrome alone to the cheers of the packed crowd and the hum of the helicopter blades, he hadn’t been fooled by the queen of classics.
“I just checked to make sure I was alone, that they hadn’t hit me, that there weren’t any guys down the street,” he said.
Wout van Aert hit the mark when he said that in all this confusion lies the beauty of Paris-Roubaix. “Everyone has the story of him during the race,” said the runner-up. “When I get back on the bus I will hear the stories of my teammates and some stories come together and I begin to understand what happened. That’s the beauty of the race ”.
Out of this chaos emerged Dylan van Baarle, an outspoken Dutchman and a figure of composure in dusty madness. The key to success in Roubaix is firing enough bullets early to get you to the last hour close to the front of the race, but at the same time saving enough to use when you finally get there.
Six months ago, during the rainy autumn Roubaix, Van Baarle got it all wrong and finished over the time limit. This time everything went well. His last, decisive attack on the four-star cobblestones of Camphin-en-Pevèle with 19km to go was enough to bring down Mohorič and Lampaert and could only have come from such a chaotic race.
“Cycling has changed a lot in the last two years, the boys always start attacking earlier to make the race difficult,” explained Van Baarle. “This is what I’ve been trying to do, it’s just in my favor, run super hard, get everyone on their knees before the big moments, [reduce] their great power. I know I’m not the best in great power, but I can do it after 250 km, this is my strong point ”.
Cycling may have changed a lot, but this was a throwback, an anachronism, a reminder of a time when road racing was less about “watts” and more about “what happened?” Because, despite this Paris-Roubaix being so characteristic of modern cycling, it has shown that as long as this race remains, the sport will always remain true to its roots.
And as the dust settled on the weather-worn stones and the sun set on the grandstand overlooking the venerable concrete track, the sport’s oldest adage still rang true: the best won.