Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) finished third in his first Paris-Roubaix. The 27-year-old Dutch rider relied on his sprint to win at the Roubaix velodrome but ran out of fuel and was beaten by Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) and Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal).
Van der Poel was not showing a smiling face on the podium and he skipped the mandatory press conference. Nonetheless, during flash interviews, he appeared satisfied with the outcome of the race.
“If I don’t win a race, I want to die trying. I can be proud, ”said Van der Poel. “My legs were empty at the end of the race. I am proud to have cracked on the podium of my first participation in Paris-Roubaix. It was really hard.
“Even though this was my first edition, I think it’s an edition for the history books and never to be forgotten.”
Much earlier it looked like Van der Poel would be very hard to beat. He safely escaped the carnage in the first cobblestone sectors and leaped forward as he passed through the Arenberg forest. He played with the pedals on the wet cobblestones and generous in his efforts, even off the cobblestone, he continued to push hard in front of the groups in which he was riding.
At this point in the race, co-favorite Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) was on the ropes and the early breakaway was within reach. Colbrelli managed to call, but one would expect the Dutch ace to drop the European champion at some point. At first, the long breakaway of Gianni Moscon (Ineos Grenadiers) seemed sure to lead to success but bad luck crossed his path. In the end, his compatriot Colbrelli played his cards in the best possible way by anticipating Van der Poel’s next move, avoiding big shots and betting on the qualities of sprint that would lead to victory.
Van der Poel was first spotted when he was brought back into the peloton after a mechanical problem after 115 km of racing. His teammates Jonas Rickaert and Silvan Dillier were on hand to help him. On cobbled section 22, the big guns appeared at the front of the peloton for the first time. Van Aert led the group over the cobbles, then Van der Poel accelerated, briefly overtaking the rest of the field. Twenty kilometers later, the small peloton entered what is known as the Trouée d’Arenberg, the 2,300m-long paved sector through the Arenberg forest. The remnants of the peloton split up and Van der Poel rushed forward.
Van Aert, caught in a crash, and the other favorites eventually got back to the Dutch ace, but despite all the acceleration of the small pack, the long breakaway still kept a lead of at least a minute. The lone Moscon survivor looked set to win until he died and needed a bike change. He struggled with his cool bike, crashed and was caught and dropped by Van der Poel, Colbrelli and Vermeersch who stayed together until the velodrome.
“In the Arenberg forest, I showed myself for the first time. From that moment on, the race never stopped, ”explained Van der Poel. “I managed to catch up a lot with my technical skills on the paved sections. For the last 30-40 kilometers I was constantly driving at the limit.
“It was a very long final which took its toll at the end of the race, although I got a freeze every 5-10 km in the last 50 km. I wanted to have enough energy but in the end it I was missing something to finish it You hope the others are dead too and obviously it is. I was hoping that I would be the least dead of the three of us for the sprint but in the end it was me who was completely dead . “
The road season is now over for Van der Poel. He managed to get back into shape just in time after back problems ruled him out since the Olympics cross country race in August. He ran a few short races before deciding to compete in the road world championships in Leuven, Belgium, last week. There he couldn’t fight Julian Alaphilippe but felt he could be ready just in time to run for the victory at Paris-Roubaix and it turned out to be.
During the flash interviews, Van der Poel was supporting his back pain, but when asked, he explained that his back was fine. “Everyone will have back pain after such a race. I was not bothered by my back today. It was a really tough edition. “
Van der Poel is expected to compete in his first cyclo-cross races in December.
“It will take a while before my head goes cross. Now it’s time to take a break,” he concluded.
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