Dylan van Baarle, riding for Ineos Grenadiers, took the biggest win of his career on Sunday 17 April, seeking out a gap over the rough cobblestones of North-East France to win solo by more than a minute and a half. The win compounded a remarkable run of form for The Grenadiers, who have now won the last three one-day races with three different riders.
Paris-Roubaix is a curiosity in the world of road cycling. Not only does the race not start – or ever get near – Paris, but it is in a category of one in which luck plays as much a part in your victory as strength and endurance.
Combine this with the victory lap for solo winners in the hallowed outdoor velodrome, and the incessant cobblestone-paved roads that litter this corner of North-East France, and you have ‘The Queen of the Classics’, the one race everyone wants to win.
Ineos seemed more than up for the challenge of winning their first Roubaix, shredding the 180-strong peloton in half with more than 200 kilometres of racing still to go. From here, the race never really settled down, with crashes, cobbles, and crevaisons all whittling down the bunch. The challenge for the main favourites was not so much ‘can you avoid a problem?’ more ‘how well can you recover from the problem?’.
With more than 50 kilometres to go, the race was already down to an elite final selection. Spring classic stalwarts Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel were the headliners in a group of 12 who had extricated themselves from the peloton over the ‘Orchies’ section of cobbles. A dangerous break containing Milan-San Remo winner Matej Mohorič a further minute up the road ensured the group worked seamlessly to close the advantage.
With help from a puncture, the elite group, now down to eight, caught Mohorič and a breakaway compatriot, leaving just the lone leader, Tom Devriendt, dangling 15 seconds off the front. With 30 kilometres to go, opportunities to distance the likes of van Aert were quickly diminishing, and soon after, the attacks began.
First, the seemingly indefatigable Mohorič slipped off with Belgian Yves Lampaert, and quickly caught Devriendt, van Baarle countered, and a leading quartet promptly formed. The gap between them and the likes of van Aert and van der Poel grew rapidly, as attempts to reel them in were hampered by yet more punctures.
I know how it is to be the last guy… But this year I had goosebumps. I can’t describe in words what the feeling was. I tried to enjoy it as much as possible
– Dylan van Baarle
19 kilometres to go and the final ‘five star’ section of cobblestones, ‘Carrefour de L’Arbre’ marked the last point for one of the leading quartet to impose themselves on the race, and each other. Van Baarle, in his signature metronomic style, went to the front and set an infernal tempo over the bone-shaking cobbles. He had just seven seconds half way through the sector, the gap inching out with every pedal stroke.
Then the elastic snapped, seven seconds rapidly became 20 and with 10 kilometres to go it was three-quarters of a minute.
At this point, the race looked settled, van Baarle, engrossed in his effort, was unassailable. Second and third were to go to Lampaert and Mohorič, who had since dropped Devriendt, with van Aert and co settling for the rest of the top 10.
That was until a spectator caught the brake hood of Lampaert, who came agonisingly close to catching the sudden shift of his handlebars, before being thrown to the ground. He would remount, mostly unscathed, to finish a commendable 10th.
The felling of Lampaert also marked the end of Mohorič’s podium hopes, who was quickly caught by the group of van Aert.
Into the velodrome alone, and van Baarle had a parade lap, soaking up the roar of the crowd as he crossed the line, hands on his head in disbelief. Van Aert and the Swiss Stefan Küng rounded off the podium, with Devriendt and the visibly exhausted Mohorič just missing out in fourth and fifth. First year professional, Ben Turner was Britiain’s best finisher in 11th position, having done much of the work for his teammate van Baarle.
Van Baarle, who has now finished second and first in the two biggest one day races of the season, was characteristically humble: “I know how it is to be the last guy. Last year I was out of time limit. But this year I had goosebumps. I can’t describe in words what the feeling was. I tried to enjoy it as much as possible.”