Mathieu van der Poel concluded his dream spring by lifting the pavement awarded to the winner of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, his second Monument this season after his coronation at Milan-San Remo two months earlier.
In a race where misfortune plagued the course of Quebecers Guillaume Boivin and Nickolas Zukowsky, Van der Poel took advantage of fire legs, his offensive instincts and a little luck to subdue his eternal rival Wout van Aert, however determined to free himself from the bad luck that seems to stick to his skin in the great classics.
As in San Remo on March 18, Van der Poel was able to savor his triumph before crossing the line in the Roubaix velodrome. He raised his right fist before placing his hand on his head, incredulous when registering this fourth Monument on his list.
Once again, the cobblestone sector of Carrefour de l’Arbre, just under twenty kilometers from the end, proved to be decisive.
On Van der Poel’s initiative, a seven-man royal breakaway had crystallized 30 km earlier. That big names were there: ex-winner John Degenkolb, former champion Mads Pederson, Swiss riders Stefan Küng and Italian Filippo Ganna and Belgian sprinter Jasper Philipsen, who allowed Van der Poel to count on a teammate.
Less than a kilometer from the end of the Carrefour, Philipsen unwittingly fell back on Van der Poel, which caused the unfortunate Degenkolb (7th) to fall.
Van Aert then went on the offensive, a maneuver that Van der Poel quickly neutralized. The two men seemed destined to explain themselves on the velodrome when a rear puncture proved fatal for the Belgian from Jumbo-Visma. By the time he changed his wheel on leaving the sector, Van Aert’s fate was sealed.
The unfortunate returned to the track with Philipsen, who had the opportunity to celebrate his teammate’s victory before sprinting Van Aert a lap later, giving Alpecin a double, a first since the Domo team’s hat-trick -Frites with Servais Knaven, Johan Museeuw and Romāns Vainšteins in 2001.
“It’s amazing how we raced as a team today,” Van der Poel said. With Jasper finishing second, it couldn’t be better. »
Van Aert had however done everything to perfection by anticipating the start of hostilities before the Trouée d’Arenberg, which had enabled him to isolate Van der Poel and to be accompanied by his faithful lieutenant Christophe Laporte. However, the Frenchman also suffered a puncture in the famous forest, so that he never saw the lead again and had to settle for 10th place at the finish.
“I’ve had one of my best days on the bike,” observed the 28-year-old winner, who passed his father Adrie, third in 1986, and his grandfather Raymond Poulidor, fifth in 1962 on the Inferno of North.
Twice crowned in the Tour of Flanders in 2020 and 2022, can Mathieu van der Poel aim for victory one day in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Lombardy, the two Monuments he has not yet conquered?
Ninth in the mud in 2021, Guillaume Boivin this time was unable to influence the race which he almost did not compete in due to a violent fall in the Tour of Flanders a week earlier. “It took a little miracle to be at the start,” said the Montrealer from Israel-Premier Tech.
While his Canadian teammate Derek Gee managed to take the breakaway of the day just before the first of the 29 cobbled sections, Boivin kept warm at the back of the field.
In a group of five, Gee was in an enviable position at the entrance to the Trench when his front tire went off the rim and disintegrated.
Shortly after, at the same place, Boivin was slowed down by a major fall which led to the loss of Dylan van Baarle (Jumbo), the defending champion.
The 33-year-old Quebecer spent the rest of the race hunting with teammate Tom van Asbroeck. “I didn’t really understand: a lot of teams missed the shot and we were a bit alone to ride,” said Boivin.
The former Canadian champion joined a group of about fifteen units with his leader Sep Vanmarcke, but a puncture delayed him further.
Vanmarcke had to settle for 16th place. Boivin praised the performance of Gee, an ex-tracker originally from Ottawa: “You had to be strong to take the breakaway at that time. It gives a glimpse of his talent. »
Although he said he no longer has “skin on his hands”, Boivin is already looking forward to next year for the 121st presentation of Paris-Roubaix. “It’s still the greatest race in the world. Well, that doesn’t change. »
Nickolas Zukowsky is not going to contradict him, even if he too experienced his share of bad luck at his baptism in Paris-Roubaix. The Swiss Q36.5 Quebecer spent the first two hours trying to slip into a breakaway, only to get back up when the right shot landed.
Like the Tour of Flanders, where his seatpost came down at a critical moment, Zukowsky experienced another trouble with his sitting: his seat began to move backwards on its rails…
The cyclist from Sainte-Lucie-des-Laurentides stopped for an adjustment before the Tranchée d’Arenberg, when Van Aert chose to give a turn of the screw. Stuck in the cars of the caravan, themselves slowed down by the fall, he never saw the main peloton again.
On this Easter Sunday, Zukowsky restrained herself from speaking church words. “It kinda breaks my heart,” he admitted. In Paris-Roubaix, punctures, falls, breakages, it’s part of the game. It’s nothing against my team, which is really on the cutting edge, but it’s something that could easily have been avoided. »
Even though his saddle continued to move backwards (!), he continued on his way with a monumental effort. “It was a nasty mental battle, but also a very physical one. I ache all over. I crawled to the finish. »
His entry into the velodrome – 24 hours after his girlfriend Simone Boilard, 39th in the women’s event brilliantly won by the Canadian Alison Jackson – gave him “a feeling of intense satisfaction” that he had never known before.
An hour later, the self-described “not very emotional guy” was still buzzing as he recounted those final pedal strokes.
“It’s a unique race. Today, I didn’t like it all along, but I was still able to enjoy it. »