Procycling

Colbrelli succeeds at trench warfare

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It seems easy, too easy, to suggest that the front of a bike race is the best place to be. Quite often, it is not. Breaks are typically reeled in during stage races; energy is saved by being in the peloton; the winner emerges at the last minute, or at least in the final phase of the race. Yet at a race like Paris-Roubaix, all of this logic is removed.

This was the first time the race had been held since April 2019, and a whole pandemic has happened since then. It was astonishin­g to remember just how hard ParisRouba­ix is, even without the extreme weather thrown in.

The perfect plan might just be as simple as riding as hard as you can for the whole race, especially when the cobbled sectors start. There is a whole mythology around how to ride Roubaix, but in the Sommelike mud of northern France in this edition, simply keeping riding and being as close to the front of the race as possible seemed like the only tactics worth following.

For a long time, it seemed that Gianni Moscon had got this exactly right. The Ineos Grenadiers rider was part of the day’s break, which formed with 215km to go, and was then away solo on his own from 53km, until he was caught just 16km from the finish. He eventually finished fourth, his best result at Paris-Roubaix.

The Italian was undone by two bits of misfortune that could have befallen any rider: first, he

Previous attempts at Roubaix by the top three riders

punctured on sector seven, Cysoing à Bourghelle­s, changed his bike, and then crashed a few kilometres later, seemingly because of the slightly different state of his second bike. Moscon can be forgiven for his lapse of concentrat­ion 230km into a 258km race, but his move was almost the winning one, and proved that attack is sometimes the best form of, well, attack.

One of the trio that caught the Italian, Florian Vermeersch, was also a survivor from the early break; the 22-year old went on to finish second, his best result at any senior race, let alone his best race at a monument or a WorldTour event. Vermeersch, a history student at Gent University, will understand how significan­t a result this was. His winning move companions, Mathieu van der Poel and the eventual victor Sonny Colbrelli, were both also riding their first editions of the Hell of the North.

There was very little to be gained from being a grizzled old veteran of the race, such as Heinrich Haussler, riding Roubaix for the 14th time. Instead, caked in mud, fortitude and bravado were the only options. This is what Mathieu van der Poel is good at; it is what won him stage 5 of TirrenoAdr­iatico earlier this year, when he attacked from 52km out and held on to win. He later explained that he attacked because he was cold.

However, when Van der Poel made his race-shredding attack, he took Colbrelli and Vermeersch with him, and was outdone by the Italian in the sprint. This was similar to the Tour of Flanders earlier this year, when Van der Poel attacked, took Kasper Asgreen with him and then lost in the sprint. The Dutchman lives by the sword, but must die by it too.

Sonny Colbrelli benefitted from Van der Poel’s attack, but had to be in the right place at the right time, which he was, then hang on, which he did, and then have the fastest sprint in the famous velodrome at the end.

The Bahrain Victorious rider has been in and around the upper echelons of one-day riders for a few years now, finishing 36 times in the top 10 of elite one-day races since 2014, but has only managed five top-five results in WorldTour oneday races in that time. His promise has never been in doubt, but it has taken until this year for the Italian to show it at the top of the sport. He has won seven races, including the European Championsh­ip road race, on the way to his first monument victory.

That cobbleston­e was certainly earned on a wet and wild day in northern France, which was described by Roger Hammond, one of his sports directors, as the “chance of a lifetime”. Colbrelli certainly took that chance.

In this edition, simply keeping riding and being as close to the front of the race as possible seemed like the only tactics worth following

 ?? ?? Van der Poel makes good his escape, but is tracked by eventual winner Sonny Colbrelli
Van der Poel makes good his escape, but is tracked by eventual winner Sonny Colbrelli
 ?? ?? Vermeersch was an inexperien­ced underdog, but took second place
Vermeersch was an inexperien­ced underdog, but took second place
 ?? ?? ADAM BECKET
S TAF F W R I T ER
Now Mathieu van der Poel has been undone twice in the sprint for a monument, Adam is wondering if he will try to do something different next year.
ADAM BECKET S TAF F W R I T ER Now Mathieu van der Poel has been undone twice in the sprint for a monument, Adam is wondering if he will try to do something different next year.
 ?? ?? PATRICK FLETCHER
F EATUR ES E D ITOR CYCL I N GNEWS. COM
Patrick thinks that there’s a fine line between positive and negative pressure, after seeing both the Dutch women’s and Belgian men’s teams fold at the Worlds road races
PATRICK FLETCHER F EATUR ES E D ITOR CYCL I N GNEWS. COM Patrick thinks that there’s a fine line between positive and negative pressure, after seeing both the Dutch women’s and Belgian men’s teams fold at the Worlds road races
 ?? ?? EDWARD PICKERING E D I TOR
Ed spent the last half hour of Il Lombardia trying to imagine a single scenario where Fausto Masnada beat Pog, but couldn’t come up with a single one.
EDWARD PICKERING E D I TOR Ed spent the last half hour of Il Lombardia trying to imagine a single scenario where Fausto Masnada beat Pog, but couldn’t come up with a single one.

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