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‘Boom!’ Rivals left in wake of a world champion on a Holy Week mission

The only answer is congratulations for the riders set the impossible task of vanquishing Van der Poel.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 07.04.2024 Photography by
Gruber Images
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There was an inevitability to the Paris-Roubaix Hommes. The fans knew it, the media knew it, even the riders knew it. The likes of Movistar’s Oier Lazkano, an outside bet for an upset on the cobbles of northern France, huffed before the start that if Mathieu van der Poel was simply destined to win, there would be no point anyone else showing up.

Yet, when Van der Poel simply excused himself from the leading group with around 60 km to go until the Roubaix velodrome, it seemed processional. The assuredness of his move and resulting time trial to the finish only speaks to the talent, form, and reliability of the world champion this Holy Week.

For the rest of the field, who had no better answer of how to beat Van der Poel in their pre-race press conferences than on Sunday, the lack of shock – or ability to wrestle the race back in their own favour – means the Dutchman can only be celebrated within the peloton, rather than scorned.

“To be honest, I’m really happy,” Mads Pedersen said in his third-place press conference. “Mathieu was in a different league today and the way he was racing was really impressive.” Pedersen had just been beaten by Van der Poel’s teammate Jasper Philipsen, repeating the Alpecin-Deceuninck 1-2 of 2023.

“For me it’s hard to beat Jasper in a normal race sprint so, fuck, magic should happen if I were to beat him in a sprint in a race like today,” Pedersen continued. “So I’m happy.”

Candid as always, the Lidl-Trek leader had few regrets as he achieved a best-ever finish at the Hell of the North, especially following the uncertainty of his form following a crash at Dwars door Vlaanderen.

“I have zero excuses today,” he said. “I was definitely at 100% … I was beaten by better boys.”

As for Van der Poel’s winning move which the others weren’t able to follow, Visma-Lease a Bike’s 16th-placed Mick van Dijke reckoned it was simply a case of exhaustion that allowed his compatriot to get off the front alone so seamlessly.

“I think everyone was quite tired already – we started full gas from the first sector …” Van Dijke explained. “Van der Poel is just another level and I have a lot of respect for the guy in his jersey, it’s crazy.”

Visma-Lease a Bike, missing the likes of Van Aert, Dylan van Baarle, and Matteo Jorgenson, were without the firepower to take on Van der Poel and his squad.

“Normally we try to do it with the numbers but the only team with numbers in the front was Alpecin-Deceuninck today,” said Van Dijk. “I wasn’t even supposed to do Roubaix …”

So, what was it like in the group when Van der Poel made his move?

“Boom!”

“A sonic boom?” one reported suggested.

“Everyone was tired and if Van der Poel goes … we know Pedersen is the second favourite but he couldn’t do it all alone,” Van Dijk continued.

“Every race we’re breaking records,” Fred Wright, 12th on the day, added of a hectic day. “And, I mean, if there’s a group of 40 guys and looking at my Garmin [I realise] we’ve still got half of the race to go …”

Stefan Küng, another of the big men drafted in as a possible (if ultimately unlikely) toppler of Van der Poel in the absence of Wout van Aert, finished fifth, distanced late on from the Pedersen, Philipsen and Nils Politt group. He too could also only marvel at Van der Poel’s effortless dominance of the Roubaix cobbles.

“Honestly, I mean, I just have to say wow to Mathieu – on another level once again,” Küng said afterwards in the velodrome. “I was just completely empty in the end. I just couldn’t follow anymore in the second-last sector [where he was dropped by the Philipsen/Pedersen group] which is a shame. But neverthless we gave it our all and it was the maximum we could give today.”

So no regrets?

“For sure three times I had to close the gap because some guys were pushing for positioning before a sector and then let the wheel go … but it’s hard to say afterwards,” Küng said. “Even when we went with Politt maybe there we lost some energy, but for the win that was impossible for sure … and for the podium was difficult.

“In the end there was nothing to do. I think you guys watched the race. It’s the best of the world. He is one level above the rest.”

In the aftermath, with the day’s hope for glory completely extinguished, it’s understandably hard for the rest of the peloton to find any immediate hope for the future. But with Van der Poel on this form, it’s hard for this era to try and compute a strategy to overhaul the rider who has just soloed to both Flanders and Roubaix in a Holy Week to remember.

“How to beat him in a Monument?” Pedersen pondered. “I just don’t know yet.”

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