Road racing Gallery: The grit and glory of Paris-Roubaix
The sport's most iconic one-day race is not one story, but a multitude.
Photo: © Gruber Images.
Paris-Roubaix is a race of overlapping storylines – a crash here, a puncture there, a bridged gap and an opened one. When the final chapter is closed at the day’s end on the hallowed infield of Roubaix velodrome, one rider emerges triumphant, but those narratives through the day aren’t any the less significant because of that.
The 2023 edition of the men’s race was defined not by
a scrappy breakaway’s survival, but a progressive whittling down of the favourites. The attrition of Trouée d’Arenberg and the following cobbled sectors – stretches of road with names that are part of cycling’s folklore – led to the emergence of an elite group of seven riders at the front, trailed by group after group after group.
And so the tension built, until the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector, 15 km from the finish. It was the race in microcosm: a crash (2015 winner John Degenkolb), a puncture (pre-race favourite Wout van Aert, at the worst possible time), an opened gap (Mathieu van der Poel, taking off alone); good luck and bad, good legs and great ones. Twenty minutes of racing later, Van der Poel lifted the cobble in Roubaix: winner of the race’s fastest-ever edition and his second Monument of the season. One story in a day full of them.
Through the fabled lenses of our photographers – Kristof Ramon and Jared and Ashley Gruber – these are some of the stories of the 2023 Paris-Roubaix.
The ideal pre-Paris-Roubaix appetiser: doomscrolling on a big pink bus in Compiègne. (Photo: © Gruber Images) And then we were away! A breakaway group of four – Sjoerd Bax (UAE Team Emirates), Jonas Koch (Bora-Hansgrohe), Derek Gee (Israel-Premier Tech) and Juri Hollmann (Movistar) – finally formed after about 80 km. (Photo: © Gruber Images) The peloton was never far behind, though, and the catch seemed inevitable. (Photo: © Gruber Images) In three neat rows along the cobbles, the peloton searches for the cleanest line through the chaos. (Photo: © Gruber Images) The peloton rounds the much-photographed corner onto the Quiévy cobbled sector. That’ll look pretty good on Instagram, I reckon. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Stretching up the flank of the road are row after row of dutiful team helpers, waiting for punctures (near inevitable) and fumbled bottle passes (surprisingly infrequent, given the fast-moving targets). (Photo: © Gruber Images) Oh deer, oh deer, oh deer. (Photo: © Gruber Images) A spectator follows Paris-Roubaix as nature intended (in a muddy, tractor-furrowed field beneath a powerline, through a small radio). (Photo: © kramon) (Photo: © Gruber Images) Ineos Grenadiers were feeling energetic on the front early in the race. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Mathieu van der Poel’s Alpecin-Deceuninck team were also an effective unit – but would that be enough to help him win his first Paris-Roubaix? Spoiler alert: yes, yes it would. (Photo: © kramon) Jumbo-Visma were all in for Wout, but they didn’t have fortune on their side. On the plus side, they did cop a lungful of some dickhead’s flare. (Photo: © kramon) And then, with just under 100 km to go, the race entered the moody Arenberg forest. (Photo: © Gruber Images) On cobbles this rough, you’re best to set your own pace. If you’re Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), that pace is very fast and enormously strong, blasting off the front of the peloton. (Photo: © Gruber Images) The coarse mathematics of Trouée d’Arenberg would eventually lead to the formation of an elite seven-rider core at the head of the race … (Photo: © Gruber Images) … including 2015 champion John Degenkolb, who looked to be having a blinder of a day. I hope nothing happens to him! Here he is, leading Van der Poel through the Pont Gibus sector … (Photo: © kramon) … closely tailed by Mads Pedersen, Wout van Aert and Stefan Küng, among a few others. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Van der Poel still had allies on the road, like Gianni Vermeersch, taking a turn at the front of this select group. Although race day was dry, the roadside puddles were a legacy of rain earlier in the week. (Photo: © kramon) Go boys go. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Van der Poel was in a unique and fortunate position in the leading group – he was the only one left with a teammate heading into the dying moments of the race. (Photo: ©kramon) The closer things got to Roubaix – like a slow-building post-rock song – tension was building and things were about to explode. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Mads Pedersen gives it another nudge, with Extremely Italian Man Filippo Ganna in hot pursuit … (Photo: © Gruber Images) … and Van der Poel, Van Aert and Küng tearing after them. (Photo: © Gruber Images) On the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector, it was time for the favourites to play any remaining cards up their sleeves. There was a Mathieu van der Poel attack; there was a John Degenkolb crash; there was Wout van Aert seizing his moment. It was, as they say, absolute scenes. But ah, just as Van Aert got some daylight and forced Van der Poel into full-scramble-mode, there was a teensy problem … (Photo: ©kramon) … in the form of a flat rear tyre at the worst possible time. Unrelated side-note: at risk of editorialising, I would argue that it’s probably best to wear shoes to Paris-Roubaix. But you do you, Mr Yellow Hat. (Photo: ©kramon) Anyway. Flat tyres. Sub-optimal, I think we can agree. (Photo: © Gruber Images) All of which meant that a fast-closing Van der Poel was able to winch his way toward Van Aert’s back wheel … (Photo: ©kramon) … and then blow right past him like he had a flat rear tyre. And with that, the race was going … (Photo: © Gruber Images) … going… (Photo: © Gruber Images) … and gone. Van Aert got a quick wheel change at the end of the sector, but wouldn’t see his arch-rival again until the finish. (Photo: © Gruber Images) About 30 seconds back, the powerhouse duo of Filippo Ganna and Stefan Küng make their way over the Carrefour de l’Arbre. (Photo: © kramon) Van der Poel, meanwhile, had a 15 km solo time trial to the finish, emptying his tank of every last shred of power, good fortune, and supernatural bike-handling ability. Spiderman watches on. (Photo: © Gruber Images) He – Van der Poel, not Spiderman – arrived at the Roubaix velodrome with time to enjoy his achievement. (Photo: © kramon) Soak it all in, Mathieu. (Photo: © Gruber Images) The whole win was a bit of a flex. (Photo: © Gruber Images) A lap behind, teammate Jasper Philipsen – who arrived as a not-very cooperative companion of Wout van Aert’s – got a front row seat to his team leader’s win. (Photo: ©kramon) Job done, Van der Poel has a look over his shoulder to see whether Alpecin-Deceuninck* would go one-two. *Technically they were Alpecin-Elegant for one day and one day only, in honour of Deceuninck’s “ultimate window concept”, a paradigm-shifting product that you and I and Mathieu van der Poel – especially him – know and love. “Never before have PVC profiles been so modern and minimalist” is probably something that you’ve deeply internalised from their marketing brochure, and look, who am I to argue. Elegant – the only PVC window that the 2023 Paris-Roubaix winner endorses. Elegant. [Orchestra swells; seductive whisper at edge of hearing – “Elegant. E-LE-GANT.” – sends shivers down your back as your eyes roll back into your head and you embrace the PVC-windowed afterlife.] (Photo: © Gruber Images) I digress. Jasper Philipsen came second, doing exactly the same fist-bump as Mathieu van der Poel one lap earlier. Kindred spirits. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Two happy campers amid a scrum. (Photo: ©kramon) The best team-mates are mate-mates, bound together by a love of bicycle sports, PVC windows, and caffeinated hair. Also, it brings me absolutely zero joy to point out that lurking in a sweaty helmet behind is a can of Fanta that’s about to get handed to a podium finisher. 😞 (Photo: © kramon) Wout van Aert would be left ruing – not for the first time – what could’ve been. So close, so far. (Photos: © kramon) ‘How are the legs, Christophe Laporte?’ (Photo: © kramon) We now enter the ‘shellshocked faces/ruined bodies’ portion of this gallery. Strong first entry, but we can do better … (Photo: © Gruber Images) Seems bad! (Photo: ©kramon) (Photo: © Gruber Images) (Photo: © Gruber Images) Laurenz Rex finished an impressive ninth place. He was happy/sad/tired with the result. (Photo: © kramon) Andrea Pasqualon takes a moment. (Photo: © kramon) Sjoerd Bax was justifiably proud of his 13th position – especially after having been in the early breakaway and spending 170 km off the front. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Soudal Quick-Step’s troubled classics campaign continued in that vein, with their best-placed rider in 23rd. On the plus side, here’s a nice picture of known tractor enthusiast Yves Lampaert and son at the finish. (Photo: ©kramon) Good: not Fanta. Bad: lots of blisters. (Photo: © kramon) In the post-race showers, there was a mix of deflation … (Photo: © Gruber Images) … and elation. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Try this in any other public bathroom and you’d be getting asked some pretty pointed questions, and fair enough. But in Roubaix, it’s all part of the grand spectacle. (Photo: © Gruber Images) As the photographers watch Mathieu van der Poel, a photographer watches the photographers. And in the mirror, we watch the photographer watching the photographers watching Mathieu van der Poel. Very meta. Much Inception. Wow. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Fresh kit, caffeinated hair, and a guy in a booth twiddling some knobs. (Photo: © Gruber Images) The race-winning bike, Van der Poel’s candy-red, as-yet-unreleased Canyon Aeroad. (Photo: ©kramon) Race: ✓ Shower in front of world’s media: ✓ Fresh kit: ✓ Now one final challenge to conquer on his way to the trophy: flamethrowers. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Phew, everyone made it. (Photo: © Gruber Images) Ladies and gentlemen, your Paris-Roubaix 2023 podium: Mathieu van der Poel, Jasper Philipsen, and Wout van Aert. (Photo: © kramon) What did you think of this story?
😐Meh 😊️Solid 🤩Excellent