The European champion Sonny Colbrelli won the Paris Roubaix 2021 beating Florian Vermeersch and Mathieu Van Der Poel in a three-man sprint in the Velodrome of Roubaix. The Italian took advantage of the work of his breakaway companions to outsprint them for the most important win of his career.
|1||Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain Victorious||6h01m57s|
|2||Florian Vermeersch (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|3||Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix|
|4||Gianni Moscon (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers||44s|
|5||Yves Lampaert (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep||1m16s|
|6||Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis|
|7||Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma|
|8||Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Israel Start-up Nation|
|9||Guillaume Boivin (Can) Israel Start-up Nation|
|10||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain Victorious|
How it happened
The Paris Roubaix 2021 edition was a chaotic and entertaining race that provided a great spectacle for the audiences at home and on the road. Team strength didn’t matter and most favorites fell or had mechanical problems. The race was blown up by the time the riders arrived at the Trouée d’Arenberg (with 100km to go). Arenberg is usually the unofficial start of the Paris Roubaix and this year the race was already out of control by that point – there was no real peloton anymore, and it was almost every man for himself.
Florian Vermeersch was in the early breakaway of the day. Colbrelli and Van der Poel eventually caught up to him, mainly off the back of the Dutchman’s work. During the race Van der Poel had a at least one mechanical issue that resulted in a bike change. Vermeersch was in front for a very long time, having been part of the original breakaway.
Once the three riders got to the Velodrome, Colbrelli did the same thing he had done to Remco Evenepoel in the European Championships. To a lesser extent, also what he did to Tom Dumoulin in the Benelux Tour to save his overall win in the last stage of the race. The Italian took advantage of their opponents’ wheels and outsprinted them in the end. By this point I am losing all sympathy for the riders that still pay for this movie just to later realize they’ve seen it before.
I don’t have much to write about the race itself because honestly, I don’t think that much happened. It might seem like an oxymoron saying that nothing happened in a spectacular race. Yet, for me, there is not much analyze about a race where no tactics survived the elements. Plenty of favorites crashed out, others had mechanical problems, and the winner didn’t. That’s it. Van der Poel seemed like the strongest rider (by far). The young Belgian, Vermeersch, was a fantastic surprise. Colbrelli was himself. And Wout Van Aert was spent after such a long season. The Italian crossed the finish line first and took home the Paris Roubaix 2021.
Even if I don’t have much to say about the racing itself I’d like to mention two of my takeaways from the race.
Firstly, I was very very disappointed that Van der Poel didn’t win. I’m about the prosperity of cycling first and foremost and it’s very hard to reach the casual fan outside of the Tour de France. This year though, before the Tour, I had friends that are casual cycling fans coming up to me asking about this “kid” that they had heard about: Mathieu Van der Poel. Keep in mind that Van der Poel had never competed in a Grand Tour up to this point. And these casual (at best) fans of the sport knew who and how good he was.
Cycling needs heroes/protagonists and Evenepoel, Van der Poel, Van Aert, and Tadej Pogacar are great at that. I don’t think this status means anything when it comes to how good your legs are on race day, but it was especially disappointing to see one of these riders lose the most important one day race of the season when he was clearly the best of the bunch. Van der Poel’s status would be further cemented, more casual eyeballs would turn to cycling, and the best rider in the race would have won it. Sadly, this was not to be.
Secondly, I wanted to make less emotional and more euro (€€€) based argument. Deceuninck Quick Step brought a monster team to the Paris Roubaix 2021. Admittedly, I thought they would do better based on my preview of the race. But Florian Senechal, Lampaert, and Kasper Asgreen had racing incidents that took them out of the podium. Lampaert still managed an impressive 5th place even after three mechanical problems. Peter Sagan – crashed. Sep Vanmarcke – crashed. John Degenkolb – crashed. Stefan Kung – crashed three times. Moscon crashed and had a puncture while leading the race solo. Jasper Stuyven – crashed. Mads Pedersen – crashed. Greg Van Avermaet – crashed. Etc.
The above are riders could all fight for the win or a podium place but all suffered race changing/ending crashes or mechanical problems that took them out of contention. While it’s true that Paris Roubaix is the toughest race on the calendar, I don’t remember an edition where this many favorites were taken out by so many racing incidents. This was kind of expected, though, because of the rain and this is my point: I don’t want this in the future. I don’t watch Formula 1 for the crashes and I don’t watch cycling for the crashes. Paris Roubaix without rain is plenty spectacular and dangerous enough for me, I don’t need these factors amplified to be entertained.
I read plenty of cycling fans saying how awesome it would be if the Paris Roubaix permanently moved to autumn after this edition. I couldn’t disagree more. How can we attract more eyeballs and money to the sport if the main selling point is carnage and chaos? How can we make sure specialists in northern classics like Vanmarcke, Stybar, or Lampaert are well compensated for their skills if they are one crash away from losing everything they worked for during the year? I’m well aware that crashing in these kinds of races is always a risk. But I don’t need it exacerbated for my entertainment when so much is on the line for the riders, the teams, and cycling in general.