Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin-Deceuninck won his second Monument of 2023 and confirmed the weighty expectations of his still young but already legendary career with a solo victory at Paris-Roubaix today, accelerating away from his brilliant but unlucky mega-rival Wout Van Aert of Jumbo Visma at the latter stage of the Carrefour de l’Arbe secteur of cobblestones to take the win. Van der Poel was trailed by all of the favorites, including Van Aert, Mads Pedersen of Trek Segafredo, and Stefan Küng of FDJ coming into the Carrefour secteur, and remarkably had both his ultra-fast teammate Jasper Philipsen and former winner John Degenkolb for company. But a mishap by Philipsen forced Degenkolb off course and onto the pavé on a straightaway, leaving the two superstars to battle for the win. Van Aert couldn’t shake his Dutch shadow, and then suffered a flat tire coming off the Carrefour secteur, leaving van der Poel in the clear and on his way to glory.
The race shook out predictably, staying largely intact coming into the Trouée d’Arenberg with a small breakaway just barely being tolerated, and melting away on the infamous “stones” in the Forest. That saw van der Poel and Van Aert move up, with Christophe Laporte of Jumbo as well and Küng, and few others in contact as a large crash in the forest saw defending winner Dylan van Baarle and Quick Step hopeful Kasper Asgreen go down and out. After the Forest, Laporte flatted and lost contact with his captain, a devastating development that Jumbo would never overcome. Meanwhile Alpecin seized on a slowdown where the second group clawed back the top stars, bringing up Philipsen and Gianni Vermeersch to help van der Poel. INEOS’ Filippo Ganna came up as well, as did Max Walscheid and Degenkolb, making for a lead group with two powerful stars but an ominous number of sprinters as well. Something had to give.
It was van der Poel, as he often does, who tried to destroy the group, first on the Warlaing cobbles and then on a small rise, attacking hard but being tracked too easily by Van Aert. He then settled into more conventional tactics, letting Philipsen work a bit more than he himself, and the group worked hard together to keep the fractured peloton — containing a lot of help for Van Aert — a minute or so down. Degenkolb too looked primed to stay in contact when van der Poel tried anything, and the race settled into mere shadowboxing until the final five-star secteur.
There it was Philipsen, still riding brilliantly but awkwardly on the front as van der Poel looked for room to attack. The Dutchman moved up into third wheel, then Degenkolb slid to the dirt track strategically, putting van der Poel behind his teammate, and Van Aert glued to van der Poel. But as van der Poel moved right to come around his teammate, squeezing between Philipsen and Degenkolb, the Belgian slid right also, as if to make way for van der Poel to come on his left. He forced his team captain to bump shoulders with Degenkolb, the 2015 Cobbled Trophy winner, and Degenkolb ran off course, over a few spectator toes, and onto the ground. Philipsen and van der Poel wobbled briefly, leaving Van Aert ahead, and Wout attacked hard, gaining 10 meters of space. From there, van der Poel recovered and desperately clawed back his rival, drawing even, then coming around, then incredibly gaining a gap as the secteur came to a close. At that point, as the pair swung off the cobbles, it was clear that Van Aert was losing tire pressure, gingerly taking the corner and then making a beeline for his roadside support who changed his rear tire out. Van der Poel had 15 seconds, then 20, as Van Aert regrouped with Pedersen and the rest.
With that gap and those legs, van der Poel’s win was nearly assured, and though he took a few nervy corners on the remaining cobbles, the Dutch son of a French mom rode gloriously home over roads that both his father Adrie and grandfather Raymond Poulidor rode well, with multiple top ten finishes between them, but never this well. He took a comfortable last lap around the famous Roubaix Vélodrome, just as Van Aert and Philipsen, having stolen away again, entered the building. Philipsen scored second place to double Alpecin’s pleasure and further frustrate Van Aert and Jumbo. Pedersen won the next sprint for fourth.
Van der Poel’s win is the second consecutive Dutch victory and fourth this century, starting with Servais Knaven in 2001 and Niki Terpstra in 2014. His half-French legacy might give the home crowd a bit of pleasure, still waiting for the first official French win since Frédéric Guesdon in 1997, but maybe not. For Van Aert, it caps a frustrating turn of cobbled classics that peaked very sharply, very early, as Jumbo were completely dominant until the Monuments started a week ago at the Ronde van Vlaanderen. He was good enough to win today, but he needed to avoid bad luck too. And with no teammates to help, he was also held prisoner by Philipsen, who almost certainly would have won if he made the final sprint, with van der Poel leading him out for good measure. The result confirms Alpecin’s strength, tactics... and good fortune. Hats off to whoever put their tires on. Because tire pressure played as big a role as anything today.
Van der Poel has few goals left to attain apart from padding his current palmares with repeat wins. Van Aert, though, is still searching for that Cobbled Monument win he seems so perfectly suited for. But this season was all about three riders — with Flanders winner Tadej Pogacar — and there were only two Monuments to win up north. For now, Van Aert is the odd man out. But 2024 will surely see another spectacular battle across these same courses, and for years to come beyond then.
- VAN DER POEL Mathieu, Alpecin-Deceuninck, 5:28:41
- PHILIPSEN Jasper, Alpecin-Deceuninck, at 0:46
- VAN AERT Wout, Jumbo-Visma
- PEDERSEN Mads, Trek - Segafredo, at 0:50
- KÜNG Stefan, Groupama - FDJ
- GANNA Filippo, INEOS Grenadiers
- DEGENKOLB John, Team DSM, at 2:35
- WALSCHEID Max, Cofidis, at 3:31
- REX Laurenz, Intermarché - Circus - Wanty, at 3:35
- LAPORTE Christophe, Jumbo-Visma, at 4:11
- VERMEERSCH Gianni, Alpecin-Deceuninck
- VERMEERSCH Florian, Lotto Dstny
- BAX Sjoerd , UAE Team Emirates
- VAN HOOYDONCK Nathan, Jumbo-Visma
- KRISTOFF Alexander, Uno-X Pro Cycling Team, at 5:36
- VANMARCKE Sep, Israel - Premier Tech
- TEUNISSEN Mike, Intermarché - Circus - Wanty
- VAN GESTEL Dries, TotalEnergies
- TRENTIN Matteo, UAE Team Emirates
- STUYVEN Jasper, Trek - Segafredo
- MOZZATO Luca, Team Arkéa Samsic
- WÆRENSKJOLD Søren, Uno-X Pro Cycling Team
- MERLIER Tim, Soudal - Quick Step
- LAMPAERT Yves, Soudal - Quick Step
- ASKEY Lewis, Groupama - FDJ3015