ROUBAIX Race Wrap: Legacy-Boosting Solo From Van Der Poel!
Key Takeaways from Paris-Roubaix: Breaking down how a legacy-building victory was set up over road cycling’s most difficult terrain. Spencer Martin examines the cobbled Classic in every detail to see how the 2023 Paris-Roubaix was won… and lost.
– This article is an excerpt from the Beyond the Peloton newsletter. Sign up here for full access. –
Van Aert punctures and the race was lost
At Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, Mathieu van der Poel rode clear of Wout van Aert, who suffered a highly ill-timed flat tire on the critical cobbled sector Carrefour de l’Arbre with 15 kilometers remaining, to get a legacy-boosting solo victory in a scorching-fast edition. Following a well-executed wheel change, Van Aert rejoined the elite chase group, but distrust, misaligned incentives, and fatigue meant that the group had little chance of nailing back Van der Poel over the final 15 kilometers. When they finally arrived in the Roubaix Velodrome 48-seconds behind the winner, Van der Poel’s Alpecin teammate Jasper Philipsen beat Wout van Aert in the sprint for second place to give the up-and-coming team an unexpected, but impressive, 1-2 finish in one of the biggest races of the season.
An Alpecin one-two
To expand on my initial Roubaix thoughts and post-race discussion thread from Sunday, I’ve broken down the key moments and takeaways from the race below:
Paris-Roubaix Top Ten
1) Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin) +0
2) Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin) +46
3) Wout van Aert (Jumbo) +46
4) Mads Pedersen (Trek) +50
5) Stefan Küng (FDJ) +50
6) Filippo Ganna (Ineos) +50
7) John Degenkolb (DSM) +2’35
8) Max Walscheid (Cofidis) +3’31
9) Laurenz Rex (Intermarche) +3’35
10) Christophe Laporte (Jumbo) +4’11.
Another Classic Monument for Van der Poel
102.3km: Van Aert’s Jumbo gets to the front heading into a tricky 4-star cobbled sector. Initially, it looks like they are simply positioning themselves at the front to stay out of trouble, but when they hit the sector, Van Aert comes to the front and increases the pace.
102.2km: This lifting of the pace catches nearly everyone off guard and almost immediately detonates the field. This pulls an elite group of riders (Van Aert, John Degenkolb, Christophe Laporte, Mathieu van der Poel) clear, while Stefan Küng chases closely behind. Anyone outside the top 10 riders heading into the sector isn’t able to close the gap and is forced to chase or out of the race entirely.
99.3km: Once off the cobblestones, Van Aert and Laporte drive the pace hard and quickly build up a sizable gap of over 30 seconds. With the numerical advantage in the group and rivals isolated, it is in Jumbo’s interest to make this move stick.
93km: Part of the genius of the Jumbo move is that it gets them out in front of the peloton heading into the brutal Arenberg Forest. They hit the start of the sector with a 20-second advantage on the peloton, and have a fairly clean pass-through, while the peloton suffers a significant crash that explodes any organized chase. Mads Pedersen surges clear of an elite Filippo Ganna chase group in pursuit of the leaders. Anyone caught behind the Ganna group is already out of contention.
88.9km: Laporte suffers a flat as they leave Arenberg, which robs Jumbo of their numerical advantage, while a strong Pedersen makes the bridge alone. A few kilometers later, the Ganna group, which includes two Alpecin riders, finally makes contact with the front. This means Alpecin, with three riders in the front group to Jumbo’s one, has now completely turned the tables on Jumbo.
51.4km: Finding himself outnumbered and with his teammate Laporte chasing behind, Van Aert sits on the lead group while Van der Poel’s Alpecin drives the pace in order to keep the Jumbo reinforcements off the back. Sick of Van Aert getting a free ride, Van der Poel attacks on the Auchy à Bersée cobbled sector. Only Degenkolb can respond, while Van Aert sits on Küng’s wheel.
50.9km: When they exit the cobbles, Van Aert easily jumps across the gap to Van der Poel, which shows us why he was so nonchalant about the attack to begin with. It also tells us that it is unlikely Van der Poel will be able to drop Van Aert before the velodrome.
47.3km: Despite this, Van der Poel keeps attacking Van Aert, who, likely sensing building fatigue in the group, stops counting on others to close the gap and starts marking him personally.
16.4km: On the decisive Carrefour de l’Arbre sector, Van der Poel collides with Degenkolb as they jockey to get around Van der Poel’s teammate Philipsen. Meanwhile, Van Aert easily cruises by on the left side before unleashing an attack.
15.2km: Van der Poel is the only rider who gets on terms with Van Aert after his move. Shortly after Van der Poel takes over on the front, we see Van Aert begin to lose contact due to a flat tire, and he is forced to get a roadside wheel change as soon as they leave the sector.
13.4km-6.9km: Van Aert gets back on terms with the Philipsen/Pedersen chase group, but with Van der Poel already having a 26-second lead, it is nearly impossible for them to peg him back. However, the chase group comes close to catching a break when Van der Poel nearly goes down on a barrier after taking an extremely aggressive line through the final cobbled sector.
Finish: Van der Poel comes into the historic Roubaix Velodrome to take a solo victory a full lap ahead of Van Aert and Philipsen (who can be seen celebrating the victory behind despite still having a sprint against Van Aert). Philipsen beats Van Aert in the sprint for second place.
The first three takeaways are my initial post-race thoughts sent to premium subscribers on Sunday after the race. Click through on each point to see the full breakdown.
- 1) Mathieu van der Poel gets a hugely important victory that sees him enter an elite class of one-day stars
- 2) Alpecin-Deceuninck dominated Jumbo-Visma in the battle for numerical superiority
- 3) Major wins are getting harder and harder to achieve for all but the very top riders/teams
Philipsen – A legitimate Classics contender
4) Jasper Philipsen proved himself to be a legitimate Classics contender
- After the 2022 Tour de France, we already knew the 25-year-old Belgian was one of the top sprinters in the world, but his performance on Sunday across the cobblestones was an absolute revelation. There aren’t many bunch sprinters with the ability to hold such high sustained power through a brutal six-hour race while still appearing to be one the strongest riders left at the finish line.
- Furthermore, if Philipsen was a designated leader here, he would have had a very good chance at winning this race since the onus would have been on Van der Poel to drop him before the finish line.
- While he hasn’t been a cobble classic contender throughout his career, he now has a strong run of success in cobbled races in 2023, with wins at Classic Brugge–De Panne and Scheldeprijs, and now a second place at Roubaix, which tell us he could be a perennial contender at these races for years to come.
Alpecin were in control
5) Alpecin’s strategy worked, but their decision-making along the way raised a few questions
- As mentioned in Takeaway #2, Alpecin was the team of the day. They were successful in turning the tables on Jumbo after the initial move to blow up the race, and are the toast of cobbles after going 1-2 in one of the biggest races of the season.
- Question #1: However, after getting both Philipsen and Van der Poel in the lead group, I’m still slightly confused by their strategy of having Van der Poel, the only rider who was realistically going to be able to follow Van Aert’s attacks on the Carrefour de l’Arbre, attack multiple times between 60km-40km to go, while Philipsen stayed in the group.
- This set up a potential situation where Van der Poel would have burned energy attacking Van Aert, only to find himself isolated and fatigued in a sprint finish against Van Aert.
- A more traditional strategy would have been for Philipsen to attack from further out, which would have forced Van Aert to either sit back and risk allowing Philipsen to get clear, or respond himself, which would have allowed Van der Poel to sit on Van Aert’s wheel and give himself a better chance in a sprint finish.
- Question #2: Alpecin had Philipsen lead into the Carrefour de l’Arbre, where Van der Poel needed to attack to get rid of the others. This forced Van der Poel to take a massive risk by squeezing by his own teammate, and then burn a massive amount of energy closing down Van Aert after the squeeze went poorly.
- In this specific scenario, they eliminated a sprint threat by crashing out Degenkolb with this squeeze, but, Van der Poel could easily have been taken down in this crash due to sloppy positioning heading into the sector.
- Question #3: When Van der Poel came by Van Aert and lifted the pace after reeling him in, he allowed his biggest rival to save energy for the sprint while he paced the duo away from his own teammate (Philipsen).
- Again, this worked out due to Van Aert’s flat, but in another world, Van der Poel rides with Van Aert to the finish line, only to lose in a sprint, and is forced to answer questions about why Van der Poel helped pace Van Aert clear of the only rider in the race capable of beating him in a sprint (Philipsen).
6) Fueling and equipment choices were critical
- Equipment: Alpecin certainly appeared to win the luck battle over their rivals due to avoiding any ill-timed flats in the final 100km, but considering Jumbo is now on their second year of suffering multiple failures of their tire/wheel systems at Roubaix, it is difficult to conclude that there isn’t a deeper issue than simply bad luck.
- The two teams have identical tire sponsors (Vittoria), but run different wheelsets and are rumored to run different systems (Jumbo’s tubular to Alpecin’s tubeless). But even if Jumbo is running the same system as Alpecin, their rivals are clearly doing something different to stave off flats (i.e. tire pressure, rim width, etc) and it paid off big time on Sunday.
- When we consider that the Jumbo PR team went through a multi-day press rollout touting the futuristic systems that allow them to adjust tire pressure on the fly leading into the event, the fact that flat tires ultimately undid them isn’t a great look.
- Nutrition: Outside of tire/wheel choices, another major subplot of the day was fueling strategy. With the pace being so consistently high and the winning move coming so far from the finish line, the contenders couldn’t rely on teammates or team cars for food/drink. Instead, they had to grab as much from the roadside, with varied levels of success due to their high speed. This seemed to have a noticeable effect on many in the lead group and even caused some riders to resort to taking their competitor’s bottles on the roadside.
- For example, Filippo Ganna, who remained powerful while reeling in the front Van der Poel/Van Aert group mid-way through the way, exhibited extreme dehydration as the event went on which likely contributed to their difficulty in closing gaps in the finale.
- We also saw Wout van Aert taking bottles from his Jumbo staff from the roadside only to toss them aside after a single taste, which signals they were struggling to get him the right feed at the right time.
- As we saw, during such a long and fast day in the saddle, these small equipment and nutrition decisions combine to make a massive difference in the final outcome.
The early break rider didn’t have much choice
7) The non-superstars in the lead group rode well, but are running out of options for beating the sport’s one-day royalty
- Mads Pedersen: The former World Champion came back from an extremely strong 3rd place ride at Flanders to get another top-five at Roubaix. Fourth on the day won’t be the result he was hoping for, but with Monument finishes of 6th, 3rd, and 4th so far this season, he is clearly off to a great start in 2023.
- Van der Poel might have ridden clear to win the race, but Pedersen’s bridge to the front group over the cobblestones of Arenberg might have been the ride of the day.
- Stefan Küng: The 29-year-old Swiss rider put in a great ride to finish 5th on the day, and now has finishes of 5th, 3rd, 6th, and 5th over the last two editions of Flanders and Roubaix.
- Filippo Ganna: Before 2023, the Italian TT specialist had never finished higher than 35th in a Monument, but after Roubaix, he now has two top tens in the last three major one-day races. Even more impressive is that he rode to 6th place on Sunday with little experience at the front of this race and what appeared to be severe fueling/hydration issues.
- John Degenkolb: The German hasn’t won a Monument since 2015 and his best days have looked well past him in recent years, but the 34-year-old looked every bit as strong as he did back in his heyday over the cobblestones on Sunday.
- He will be devastated by the crash caused by the Alpecin-pinch, but that is part of the risk of going over to the edge of the cobblestones (eliminating your potential escape routes) and attempting to overtake a rider on an extremely rough surface.
- All of these riders could be happy with these performances, but at the same time, they might feel they are running out of options for how to beat riders like Van Aert, Van der Poel, Pogačar, and their phalanx of teammates, at the biggest one-day races.
Van Aert punctured and we lost a potential Van der Poel/Van Aert velodrome sprint
8) Anticlimactic finishes are a feature, not a bug, at Roubaix
- While nearly every viewer was likely disappointed to see a potential Van der Poel/Van Aert velodrome sprint for the win go up in flames when Van Aert flatted with 15km to go, it is essential to remember that while Flanders tends to serve up physical battles between the rest riders, Roubaix tends to be won, and lost, by equipment choices and/or strokes of luck.
- We will never know what would have happened in a historic sprint between Van Aert and Van der Poel, but to speculate is almost missing the point of the event. Roubaix is about surviving the brutal 260km parcours prior to the velodrome, and a clean ride to the finish is never guaranteed.
- Due to the extremely difficult course that is designed to cause misfortune, it is incredibly rare for two superstars to actually enter the velodrome and battle it out for the win. Instead, we often see one big star sprinting against an outsider (Colbrelli vs Van der Poel in 2021) or one big star riding clear after their rivals have suffered flats.
- In fact, the last time two major stars entered the velodrome to sprint it out for the win was Tom Boonen vs Fabian Cancellara in 2008.
Van der Poel survived the brutal 260km parcours
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #
****Read the ‘PEZ Race Report’ HERE. ***
Comments are closed.