Paris-Roubaix 2021 LIVE - Sonny Colbrelli battles rain and mud to sprint to victory on gruelling for peloton
Over two and a half years had passed since the peloton tackled the Paris-Roubaix cobbles. With a host of top riders in France and rain on the menu, it was worth the wait as Sonny Colbrelli became the first Italian rider to win the race for 22 years as he succesfully wrestled with the Hell of the North.
Illustration picture shows the pack of riders in action during the men elite race of the 'Paris-Roubaix' cycling event, 257,7km from Compiegne to Roubaix, France on Sunday 03 October 2021. BELGA PHOTO DAVID STOCKMAN (Photo by DAVID STOCKMAN/BELGA MAG/AFP
Florian Vermeersch had gone for a long one - he had to - and it almost looked like he was going to hang on, but it was not to be for the young Belgian. Third for Van der Poel, who seemed too high up the track.
What a race. What a day. Well worth the wait.
The flamme rouge: The trio is about to enter the velodrome
One last set of ceremonial cobbles, and this race will soon be settled.
5km to go: The Andre Petrieux velodrome awaits
The three look like they’re going to ride into Roubaix together, unless one of them springs a surprise. Can any of them possibly have the legs for it, after 265km?
The answer is yes. With 2.6km to go, Vermeersch does, but it's not big enough, and Colbrelli easily shuts it down.
8.2km to go: Secteur 2: Willems to Hem ⭐⭐⭐
Van Aert’s group isn’t gaining ground quickly enough, so it looks like we have our Paris-Roubaix podium: Van Der Poel, Vermeersch, Colbrelli. I don’t think anyone can say with confidence what order they’ll finish in. Colbrelli should have the faster sprint, but after a race like this, it’s never as simple as that. Can Vermeersch catch the other two watching each other? Certainly he won't have had to do as much work in this final phase of the race.
All three are debutants, remember.
16.1km to go: Moscon is caught
It’s four at the front and almost immediately Sonny Colbrelli has a go. Having been soft pedaling for miles, you have to reckon he’s in the best shape of everyone in this group. Moscon has already been dropped, but Vermeersch just does not know when he’s beaten, even finding the legs to put in an attack of his own.
Van Aert's group comes off the Carrefour not far behind the leaders.
17.2km to go: Secteur 4: Carrefour de l'Arbre ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Less than 5km of cobbles left of this race and Moscon is still to be caught. Not only that but he’s somehow taken back some of the time he lost in that crash. Dan Lloyd reckons the tyres on his new bike are at a higher pressure than his main one, which would explain why he's bouncing a bit more on the cobbles. Van Der Poel’s group - sorry to diminish the others, but they’re not the headliners in that quintet - seem to be cooperating, but Magnus Backstedt reckons Colbrelli is taking ewer, shorter, slower turns than Van der Poel needs him to. Should MVDP go solo, if he can?
The Van Aert-led peloton is ten strong, and gaining ground.
26km to go: Secteur 7: Cysoing to Bourghelles ⭐⭐⭐
Moscon slips while riding on the middle of the road, just before a left hand bend on this slippery sector. The bike was going one way, as he steered the other. Van der Poel’s group can definitely see him now. The gap is down to less than twenty seconds and they've got missile lock.
30km to go: Puncture for Moscon
The camera zooms in on Moscon’s back wheel, which looks super soft. He’s still going but he’s going to need a bike change, which he pulls over to complete. How quick can they complete it? Pretty quick, but he’ll have lost a minimum of fifteen seconds there. 46 seconds the new gap to the chasers. How will that affect Moscon psychologically?
35km to go: Van der Poel’s group now five strong
The MVDP trio finally catch Vermeersch and Van Asbroeck. Although calling it that might suggest that Colbrelli is adding much fuel to the fire, when the Dutch rider is doing it all on his own. Time for him to go? The others are only slowing him down, surely, and he doesn’t want to take the Italian sprinter to the velodrome.
Gianni Moscon looks like he’s doing just fine.
39.2km to go: Secteur 9: Port Thibault to Ennevelin ⭐⭐⭐
Having said it looked like the race had run away from Jumbo's leader, the gap from the Van Aert peloton to the Van der Poel trio has in fact come down a bit. Don't rule out the bigger group swallowing up the smaller one.
Moscon, knowing what he has to do, pushes on. The Italian has a lead of 50 seconds over Vermeersch and Van Asbroeck, 1:26 over Van der Poel, Colbrelli and Boivin.
48.6km to go: Secteur 11: Mons en Pevele ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Adam Blythe informed a moment ago that this second, seriously treacherous sector was drying out and is mainly still wet in the corners. That hardly sounds better to me. They've got three kilometres of this horror to ride. "I've seen cyclo-cross races with less mud than this," exclaims Rob Hatch.
Van der Poel’s group has a gap of 600m, and more than sixty seconds, over Van Aert’s. It’s a much bigger bunch, but who’s going to ride with him? Is it over for the Belgian champion? You can see how good Van der Poel is at this, gapping the two riders with him without accelerating, simply be being a better bike handler. He's the only one out there who doesn't look like he'd be better off with wider tyres.
53km to go: Moscon goes solo
The controversial, outgoing Ineos man seems to separate from his colleagues almost by accident. We're told he has a minute on the Van Der Poel group. Still a very long way to go, but it's not as far as Deignan went from yesterday...
60.2km to go: Secteur 13: Orchies ⭐⭐⭐
As we arrive in Boonen country, the front of the race has been whittled down. Just three riders now leading: Gianni Moscon, Tom Van Asbroeck and our earlier leader, Florian Vermeersch. MVDP’s group is also much smaller. It’s him, Harry Sweeny, Bovin, Colbrellli and Planckaert. GVA's group is about to combine with Van der Poel's.
65.2km to go: Secteur 14: Beuvry to Orchies ⭐⭐⭐
Van der Poel’s group, with MVDP in the engine room, is now just 50 seconds behind the very front of the race, with a gap of their own of 30 seconds over Wout van Aert and the rest of the peloton.
This is a super muddy section of cobbles. No surprise that the front squad is full of Belgians. Having said GVA was looking miserable, he’s still up there and riding well.
71.5km to go: Secteur 15: Tilloy to Sars et Rosieres ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Huge attack from Mathieu van der Poel as his group hits Sector 15. Quickly he manages to build out a good gap on the rest, dragging only Stybar, Lampaert and Heinrich Haussler with him, and eats up the road to Sonny Colbrelli in barely a single sector of pave.
75km to go: Secteur 16: Warlaing to Brillon ⭐⭐⭐
Group 3 seems to be swelling, as riders find their way back on from behind, while splits occur all over the place.
The camera flashes to Sep Vanmarcke, who had been looking good, and now very much isn’t, having been separated from his bike - presumably at speed - at the side of the road.
Van Der Poel needs a bike change but gets back on with the help of team-mates.
82.5km to go: Secteur 17: Hornaing to Wandignies ⭐⭐⭐⭐
As the race hits the 180km completed mark, Eekhoff and Vermeersch have been caught by the bigger break. Thirty seconds behind is Guillaume Boivin, Sonny Colbrelli, Baptiste Planckaert and Jerome Lecroq. They themselves have a lead of thirty seconds over what should now be called the group of favourites.
In there we have Zdenek Stybar, Wout Van Aert, Sep Vanmarcke, Mathieu Van der Poel, Tom Skujins, Matteo Jorgensen, Bert De Backer, Cyril Lemoine, and Laurenz Rex. That may be only vaguely accurate by the way. It's very hard to achieve anything remotely resembling certainty when everyone is caked in mud. What's clear is that Quick Step have some work to do behind.
93km to go: What happened there then?
Arenberg lives up to its rating, with riders skidding, slipping, sliding - and hitting the deck - all over the place. There are few places where a rider can do everything right and still end up horizontal. The former World Champion, Mads Pederson (Trek-Segafredo) is one casualty, while Simon Clarke goes down in front of Wout van Aert, who does well to avoid the crash, but he's been gapped.
Sonny Colbrelli, Mathieu Van der Poel, Matteo Jorgensen and Guillaume Boivin are riding. Eekhoff and Vermeersch stayed out of trouble. The front of the race looks like a good place to be. Well, less horrible.
95.3km to go: Secteur 19: Trouee d’Arenberg ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The front two hit the first five star sector, followed twenty seconds later by the remnants of the breakaway. This is one of the most celebrated stadia in the sport - 2.3km of the roughest, most violent cobbles riders will ever compete on. “Nothing can prepare you for the first time you hit the Forest of Arenberg in race conditions,” says Magnus Backstedt, as these two riders will be. Will WVA put the pressure on here? Magnus thinks he will.
While Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick Step) was pushing on, his team-mate Florian Senechal experienced a front wheel flat at the exit to the previous sector. Greg van Avermaet (AG2R-Citroen) looks as unhappy as we’ve ever seen him on a bike.
103.5km to go: Secteur 20: Haveluy to Wallers ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Wout van Aert has just grabbed a new bike off the team car, which will probably be a bit cleaner, if nothing else. He’s already rejoined the peloton. There’s a crash at the back of the peloton as Jasha Sütterlin (DSM) rides into the back of Intermarche leader, Taco van der Hoorn. Looks painful for Giro stage-winner, Taco.
Arenberg is not far away now and the fight for position has already begun, with Quick-Step pushing the pace particularly aggressively. Anyone else (even more) excited?
116.5km to go: Secteur 21: Maing to Monchaux sur Ecaillon ⭐⭐⭐
Eekhoff and Vermeersch have grown their lead to almost a minute over the break, who have, in turn, an advantage of 2:44 over the peloton, which has Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel at the front of it for the first time. MVDP tries an attack, which Michal Kwiakowski is quick to shut down.
Meanwhile, Christophe Laporte finds an innovative way of slowing his bike down:
Bit of respite for the riders after this sector, with 10km of road before the carnage resumes.
121.4km to go: Secteur 23: Artres to Querenaing ⭐⭐⭐
This sector isn’t too hard from a pave perspective, but it’s a bit of an uphill drag, which hardly makes things easier. Our front pair are working well, and Eekhoff seems to have settled into his ride.
The rest of the race is in pieces and it’s really anyone’s guess how many riders strong either the breakaway or peloton are, but both are a lot smaller than they were.
John Degenkolb is another former winner who has crashed.
127km to go: Chute!
And no sooner do I say they're going well, than it becomes apparent that Luke Rowe has gone from the group and we watch as Max Walsheid loses his front wheel, turning them into a duuo.
130.4km to go: Secteur 24: Capelle to Ruesnes ⭐⭐⭐
Peter Sagan has crashed. Going into a right hand 9road) bend on which someone has inconsiderately deposited a lake overnight, one of the riders in front of him touched the brakes, taking himself down and the Slovakian with him. The 2017 winner does not look to be in a hurry to get back to the peloton. Stefan Kung has gone down for the third time, the first of his crashes that has happened on the cobbles.
Up ahead the front four are making good progress. Far too early to suggest that the winner might come from these quartet, but there’s no doubt that this group could go far into this race. Nils Eekhoff is taking fewwer turns than the other three, but more because he seems like he doesn't want to be there.
141.1km to go: Secteur 26: Haussy to Saint Martin sur Ecaillon ⭐⭐⭐
We’ve just had the first, relatively minor incident on the cobbles. With all the mud and rain gear, I've no idea who it was, but they appeared to be wearing Assos shorts, so Team Qhubeka, presumably? He's okay though, and back on his bike.
While Marco Haller returns himself to the belly of the bunch, four riders, Florian Vermeersch, Luke Rowe, Nils Eekhoff and Max Walscheid have clipped off the front of the break. Their gap is around 15 seconds.
'Blimey!' - Early crash at wet men's Paris-Roubaix
152.3km to go: Secteur 28: Quievy to Saint Python ⭐⭐⭐⭐
As Luke Rowe leads the breakaway onto the longest sector, their lead is holding steady. Once the pavé begin, they come thick and fast. It looks utterly brutal out there.
Our man on a bike, Adam Blythe, has buzzed into the future, and it doesn’t look like a lot of fun: “We’ve just gone over sector 27 and I am absolutely bricking it. It’s so so scary.”
“I’ve got my heart in my mouth,” says Dan Lloyd in the warm and cosy commentary box. Magnus Backstedt, on the other hand, is “sitting here with a grin on my face.” Possibly the only person who wishes he was out there rather than watching.
161.4km to go: Secteur 30 - Troisvilles to Inchy ⭐⭐
As the men hit the famed cobbles for the first time in 903 days, the aforementioned break consists of the following riders:
Florian Vermeersch, Harry Sweeny, Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal), Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe), Davide Ballerini, Tim De Clercq (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Edoardo Affini, Timo Roosen, Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma), Tom van Aesbroek (Israel-Start Up-Nation), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Tom Skujins (Trek-Segafredo), Marco Haller, Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R-Citroën), Stefan Bisseger (EF Education-Nippo), André Carvalho (Cofidis), Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE Team Emirates), Gianni Moscon, Luke Rowe (Ineos Grenadiers), Florian Maître (Totalenergies), Luke Durbridge, Robert Stannard (BikeExchange), Edvaldas Siskevicius (Delko), Nils Eekhoff (DSM), Max Walscheid (Qhubeka-NextHassh), Imanol Erviti, Matteo Jorgensen (Movistar) and Luca Mozzato (B&B Hotels-KTM)
Of note, so far, is that Stefan Kung has hit the deck twice, while Marco Haller has punctured required neutral service assistance.
162km to go: The 55km of cobbles that lie in store
Up the road are 29 riders with a lead of 1:44. The fight for the run-in to Troisvilles is about to begin.
171km to go: A vision of hell
Who’s going to win?
The favourites are the favourites. Obviously the stand-out names are those of cyclo-cross legends turned road rockstars, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. Will Ineos rue the decision to omit Tom Pidcock from their line-up?
Despite the conditions, however, I happen to think the race is far more wide open than the bookies do, which is why I’ve dipped into my winnings to take advantage of a few fractions that have been set way too low for the caliber of rider in this kind of race. I’ll tell you who they were later, depending on how far off the mark I end up having been.
This race rarely ends with a big bunch together. More likely is a select sprint. Two riders made it to the velodrome together in both of the last editions, while the three before that saw five, four and six riders respectively finish on the same time.
In an uncontrollable race, the smart money says opt for the team with the most cards to play. Deceuninck QuickStep are rolling with a man with several top tens on his palmares, as well as the skills to pay the bills, Zdenek Stybar. Then there’s their power-mad Flanders champion, Kasper Asgreen, who could achieve a rare double today.
But on a day like today, no-one really knows anything and if we did there wouldn’t be much reason to watch. The road decides.
And we're under way on the roads to Roubaix
Bienvenue to the most anticipated professional bike race since… well, yesterday. Even with two-and-a-half years since the last edition, and the wild weather which is forecasted, it will be nigh impossible to top the anticipation of the women’s race, for which we were waiting a hell of (the north) a lot longer.
But 903 days is still a good while.
And 7112 is the number that sits somewhere in between. That’s how many earth rotations there's been since the last wet men's edition of Paris-Roubaix. Bored of all that chatter as you might already be, there’s no doubt the precipitation will play even more of a part in today’s race than it did yesterday’s when, with 20km of racing left, the slippery conditions caused a crash in the chase group. That forced Marianne Vos to head out on her own in an ultimately doomed effort to bring back Lizzie Deignan.
Expect more of the same today in a race that should, in theory, favour those known for their bike handling abilities. The challenge will be managing the balance between keeping out of trouble without expending too much energy. There are those who will tell you that who wins shouldn’t come down to luck, but the truth is luck plays a part in every bike race. Today, just like any other, the more skill and strength the athletes have, the less luck they’ll need.
The last time this race was held I was lucky enough to be in Compiegne and at Quievy, in the heart of the Arrenberg forest and the centre circle at Roubaix. Today, I feel privileged to have a race to watch at all, and to be at your reporting service for its duration.
The cobbles arrive with 161.4km of racing left. Before that we have a shade under 100km of tarmac, on which the wind might give the riders more to deal with than the rain. It’s only a bit breezy across the channel, but the blows are coming from the west, so let’s see. as the fight for the early break begins. Allons y les gars!
Where has the time gone?!
When the peloton rolls out of Compiègne to get the 118th edition of Paris-Roubaix under way it will be a whopping 903 days since Philippe Gilbert, then 36, out-kicked Nils Politt in the Roubaix velodrome to take a victory in his fourth Monument. That win – in a pre-COVID era – seems like a distant relic as we look back after all the global calamity of the past 20 months.
That was a time when Chris Froome was the reigning Giro d’Italia champion, Remco Evenepoel had yet to notch his first pro win, Primoz Roglic and Egan Bernal hadn’t won any Grand Tours between them, Tadej Pogacar was still a neo-pro and Alejandro Valverde was World Champion. Neither Wout van Aert nor Mathieu van der Poel had a Tour de France appearance to their name, or a Monument win in their palmarès. It was, in short, an entirely different era for pro cycling.
Following cancellation in 2020 – Paris-Roubaix being the sole Monument to be floored by the pandemic last year – and this season’s early postponement, Gilbert is now 39 years old as he looks to defend his crown in what are expected to be suitably hellish conditions. For the switch in the calendar from spring to autumn seems to have secured what the month of April repeatedly failed to bring about for the best part of two decades: a wet Paris-Roubaix.
It’s unprecedented for the Queen of the Classics to come sandwiched between the World Championships and Il Lombardia – but if this is the final remaining vestige of the protracted pandemic crisis, then we’ll accept fallen leaves on the cobbles in the Arenberg forest just the once. Especially if, as predicted, Sunday could be the first wet and muddy edition of Roubaix since 2002.
Five former winners will take to the start with defending champion Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) joined by Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe; 2018), Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R-Citroen; 2017), John Degenkolb (Lotto Soudal; 2015) and Niki Terpstra (Team TotalEnergies; 2014). With the exception of Slovenia’s Sagan, all of those riders are still waiting for a win in 2021 and it would be extremely fanciful to see any of their respective droughts end in the rain.
As for Sagan, the former triple world champion has seen his stock fall worse than Blockbuster video these past few seasons. The 31-year-old is seemingly unable to cope with the explosiveness of the likes of Alaphilippe, Van Aert and Van der Poel – riders who share the same skillset he used to possess in buckets. Having agreed a two-year deal with pro-continental Team TotalEnergies, Sagan could benefit from entering his ninth Paris-Roubaix under the radar. It will be interesting to see how he dovetails with 2019 runner-up, the rangy German Nils Politt, and equally interesting to see how former champions Gilbert and Degenkolb combine for Lotto Soudal.
All eyes, though, will be on the stellar paring of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), whose shared cyclocross background should put them in good stead on the wet cobbles. The Dutchman will have the experience of 2018 runner-up Silvan Dillier to fall back on, as well as the in-form sprint duo of Jasper Philipsen and Tim Merlier. The Belgian, meanwhile, lines up alongside Mike Teunissen, who came seventh last time round.
Danish champion Kasper Asgreen is the fulcrum of a typically solid Deceuninck-QuickStep squad and it’s worth remembering that he outfoxed both Van Aert and, ultimately, Van der Poel in the Tour of Flanders finale back in the spring. Meanwhile the in-form Dutchman Dylan van Baarle is always comfortable on the cobbles and enters as a dark horse following his silver medal ride at the Worlds; support from Ineos Grenadiers teammate Gianni Moscon could make Van Baarle a viable outside bet.
But with six top 10s in the last seven editions, Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) is clearly in possession of the particular blend of grit, positioning, bike-handling, power and tactical acumen – not to mention the good luck – required to perform well over the cobbles, even if the Czech powerhouse has never won in the Roubaix velodrome, having twice come runner-up (in 2015 and 2017). Could this be the year that Stybar finally stands on the top step with a cobblestone trophy in his hands?
Paris-Roubaix is a race which often rewards experience and dogged persistence – just as Mat Hayman – so the outside chances of riders like Jens Keukeleire, Sebastian Langeveld, Alexander Kristoff and even Sep Vanmarcke should not be discounted.
What is the route for the Paris-Roubaix?
Paris-Roubaix, men's route: The men's race is 257.7km long and takes in 30 cobbled sections after hitting the 96km mark.