If I were on Twitter, and you bothered to get up at 5:30 a.m., you’d get this report in dribs and drabs and wouldn’t have to fret about how long it is. But think about these poor riders, hammering along the cobblestones through the cold and wet … they have it a lot harder than you. So sit down, shut up, drink your coffee, and follow all the action as I give you a blow-by-blow account without any of the annoyances of journalistic integrity (e.g., biting my tongue).
As I start watching the riders have just over 100 kilometers left to race, including “le Trouée d'Arenberg” which translates “the hole of Arenberg.” Here’s Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroen Team) communicating nonverbally with a cameraman.
It’s been raining, and the course is torn up from yesterday’s race, the first-ever women’s edition. It’s not the riders who rip up the course, of course, it’s the support cars and motorbikes.
It’s hard to figure out what’s going on because the peloton has already broken into pieces. We’ve got a couple riders off the front, then a chase group, then another group … be patient, I’ll try to sort it out.
They’re showing footage from earlier, before the start, when French race favorite Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck-Quick Step) observed his traditional Paris-Roubaix pre-race ritual, designed to loosen him up a bit.
Back to the live action: they’re into the Arenberg! Looks dark and scary. This is often described as a forest, but apparently the technical term is “hole.”
Whoah, Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) almost stacks but saves it!
And now another rider crashes right in front of race favorite Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)!
Amazingly, Van Aert manages to stay up, but a huge gap has opened to the group he was in, which includes another favorite, Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) who now drills it at the front.
That section of cobbles ends with Van Aert still off the back. Here he rides away from a bunch of slackers who’d latched onto his wheel.
There’s an American in one of these lead groups, #206: Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar Team). I’m glad this nation at least made an appearance.
Van Aert makes it back to the front as Van der Poel takes a drink. Next to him is Colbrelli, rocking the oddly colored European Union champion’s jersey, with the Italian tri-color cuffs as he’s the national champion. Van Aert is in the Belgian national champion jersey, not that it’s easy to tell, so muddy as it is. Their moms are gonna be furious—those are very special commemorative jerseys and they shouldn’t have worn them when they knew things would be so muddy today.
“We’ll have the women joining the course very shortly,” says the announcer Phil Liggett. WTF?! That’s the craziest twist I’ve ever heard! “Well, not the actual women, I mean,” Phil stammers. “I mean this is where the coverage began for the women’s race yesterday.”
Man, it must be a confusing place inside Phil’s head. He’s been at this so long, I’m sure all his dreams are about bike races, and all the eras are rolled into one. It’s really a shame that the women aren’t jumping into the race with the men, though, isn’t it? Imagine how that would change the dynamic of the race, with this or that man showing off whenever he encountered a particularly attractive woman racer. Meanwhile, you’d have a bunch of the guys mansplaining fine points of technique to the ladies, who showed yesterday that they don’t need any lessons, thank you very much.
“I don’t think this man knows the word giveup,” Phil says. I don’t think Phil knows that “give up” is actually a phrase. I don’t know whom he’s talking about, by the way … and probably neither does Phil.
Whoah, some dude hits the deck, and another almost piles into him! Oddly, this doesn’t even look like a very treacherous stretch of road.
It’s Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko) who’s crashed, and he’s holding up Timo Roosen (Jumbo-Visma), a support rider for Van Aert.
Uh oh, Van der Poel has had a mechanical and now chases the Van Aert group on a new bike.
“Still 900 kilo-, er, 900 meters of this cobbled section to go,” Phil sputters.
Van der Poel has found a teammate at least, and they hammer along trying to chase down the Van Aert group.
OMG, Phil keeps saying “Adri Van der Poel,” which is obviously incorrect. Adri retired in 2000. It’s his son Mathieu, obviously, taking up the charge these days. Anyway, Van der Poel II has now caught the group and immediately attacks!
Van Aert needs to be pretty worried about this, of course … as if he didn’t have enough to worry about.
And now Van der Poel bears down on a chase group of five, which includes race favorite Colbrelli in that special white EU champ jersey I mentioned before. Over on the left is Guillame Boivin (Israel Start-Up Nation) wearing the Canadian champion’s jersey. The cows over on the side, despite being Jersey cows, aren’t paying any attention to any of this.
Okay, I took a little liberty there. Those cows are Holsteins. Jersey cows are brown and found mainly in the UK.
Van der Poel catches the group and goes straight to the front.
This group has picked up four more riders, probably the ones Van der Poel had been with.
Here is the lead group, which includes the two who were originally off the front. Look, five of them are Belgian!
Not sure how many are in this group … the five listed above was only the first “page” of the cheat sheet.
Wow, this is handy! We get the names of four of the players in the chase group. And that fifth guy? Nobody cares about him.
Now three riders have dropped the rest of the lead group. I have absolutely no idea who they are … I mean, how could I determine that through all that mud?
The guy sitting third is on Lotto Soudal … you can see the logo on his sleeve. And he’s not Harry Sweeny, because we just saw Sweeny in the chase group. And he’s not the defending champion Philippe Gilbert, because the announcers would be going ape-shit over that. Ditto John Degenkolb. Ah, but we saw some names earlier … Lotto had two guys in the original lead group, Florian Vermeersch and Tosh Van der Sande … so this could be either of them. So I still don’t know who any of these three guys is. This is like one of those logic problems from math class …
Van Aert has lost 30 seconds on the Colbrelli/Van der Poel group.
So we’ve got a breakaway of the three mystery men, and then maybe five or six chasers after that including Van Avermaet, then another smaller chase group with Colbrelli and Van der Poel. Ah, here’s another partial roster:
Aha! One of the chasers is Van der Sande, so the Lotto rider in the breakaway must be Vermeersch!
The weather has improved but the cobbles will be slippery for the rest of the day. By the way, it’s time to have our uncomfortable talk about this term “cobblestones.” Everybody calls them that, but this race does not actually feature cobblestones—these albeit medieval roads are made of setts, which are stones cut roughly into cube shapes to make a more uniform surface. True cobblestone roads don’t feature this nicety: they’re literally roads built of unimproved stones (i.e., in their original form). So when retired racer and now announcer Chris Horner describes Paris-Roubaix as “they plowed a dirt road, flew over it with a helicopter, and then just dropped a bunch of rocks out of the helicopter!” he’s not being completely accurate. They dropped setts, probably from a dirigible since helicopters hadn’t been invented yet.
Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick Step) punctures. “This is a bad time to puncture,” Bob Roll, Phil’s fellow announcer, says. Well, what would be a good time to puncture? Wouldn’t it be weird if the riders could schedule their bike problems? They’d say into the radio, “It’s a big group and we’ve got a tailwind … I’m gonna have my puncture now. Can you get a car up here?”
Looks like the Van der Poel group has caught the front chase group. Check out the sign they put up to warn cars about the race. The French go all-out when they host an event.
The leading trio is looking pretty solid. I’ve (finally!) learned from the announcers that the other two leaders are Gianni Moscon (Ineos Grenadiers) and Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel Start-Up Nation).
OMG, there’s another crash!
Van Avermaet, a former Paris-Roubaix winner, is one of the riders who stacked. Van der Poel continues to crush it at the front and this group may never reassemble. It’s now a chasing trio of Van der Poel, Colbrelli, and Boivin.
At the front, Moscon has attacked his two breakaway pals and is solo now!
Whoa, Colbrelli almost stacks! His bike fishtails this way, then that, and a gap opens up ahead of him.
Up ahead, Moscon looks quite good, keeping a high tempo over the absolutely horrendous so-called road.
I want to take a moment to say how exciting the women’s race was yesterday. The only problem is the limited coverage, only the last couple hours, so we missed seeing the winning attack … that’s how far out the winner, Lizzie Diegnan (Trek-Segafredo), made her move. In honor of this first women’s edition I threw the dice and asked my younger daughter, who hates bike racing, if she wanted to watch the replay for a bit. She observed how harsh the “cobbles” were and the shock waves traveling up the bikes to the riders, making their arms shake, and she said, “As hard as this must be on the men’s balls, think of what it’s like for the women. Do you have any idea how bad it sucks even to run, when you have boobs? This must just be awful for the women. Those men have no idea. You make sure to mention this in your blog post tomorrow!” So there you have it.
Crazily enough, Moscon’s lead seems to be increasing. With 42 kilometers to go, he’s got almost a minute and a half. In a normal road race this wouldn’t be that much of a lead, if a chase group could really get organized, but everyone is fried and their morale may well be seriously challenged. Van der Poel seems to be doing like 90% of the work in the chase group.
The problem with a race like this is that you don’t have long descents where people generally maintain their position and wait for the climbs. This makes it hard for your humble blogger to take a bio break. I can wait no longer. Wish me luck.
Okay, I’m back, and—what a coincidence!—Vermeersch is taking a leak! He thinks he’s a dog!
Yeah, just kidding. His tires slipped and he almost stacked and swung his leg out for balance. He’s back in now. By the way, I evidently missed it, but the Van der Poel group obviously caught Vermeersch and presumably Van Asbroeck.
Ah, but what’s this? Moscon seems to have a flat tire! Justice is served!
But he just keeps riding along, as if willing the tire to repair itself! It’s crazy, why isn’t he summoning his team car?
Okay, here’s the team car. They don’t bother with wheel changes anymore … he gets a new bike. They’ll probably just throw the old one away. I wonder what the Ineos staff think of Moscon. Like, is that mechanic tempted to grab his foot and just give it a good backward yank?
That was a pretty quick bike change—under ten seconds, I’d say—but perhaps this mishap will breathe life into the chase group. Van der Poel moves to the front, head down, and you can tell he’s balls-to-the-wall.
And now what’s this? Moscon totally stacks!
Not quite sure how that happened, other than perhaps divine intervention or karma.
Now a motorbike crashes as well! It’s chaos!
Moscon is back up but his lead has dwindled further. Brilliant!
And now you can see the chasers bearing down on him.
Now, with Moscon in sight, the chase is getting interesting because of Colbrelli, who’s an awesome sprinter and thus complicates the job for Van der Poel. Normally the chasers would finish Moscon off, but maybe they’re already starting to play games. One or more of them may be waiting to launch a solo attack instead of keeping the group together. So the lead starts to go out again; at one point Moscon had just 8 seconds, but now it’s back up to 20. Still, there’s a long way to go.
The road is slicker than snot! Moscon’s bike fishtails like crazy.
Whoa, the camera moto crashes!
And now another rider crashes! It’s Boivin.
He won’t get back on, what a shame for him.
Van der Poel takes a massive pull at the front of the chase group, stretching it out like a rubber band, and the gap to Moscon is coming down again!
And they’ve got Moscon! Colbrelli rides straight past him!
Moscon is dropped, the little shit! That’s right! Down, dog, and kennel!
Van der Poel takes the front and drills it!
Just look at these badasses!
Vermeersch takes a pull. So far these three are still cooperating, but the next section of cobbles (which I think is the penultimate one) will surely see a bunch of attacks. Only Colbrelli would want this to end in a three-up sprint on the velodrome.
The Van Aert group is over a minute back with 10 kilometers to go. Pretty much no way they’ll catch unless there’s a major crash in the break (as in, all of them falling).
Where there’s smooth road next to the cobbles, the race promoters have put up barriers, to force the riders into the rough stuff. Van der Poel weaves around the barriers, taking the smoother surface where he can get it. Is this just being efficient, or is it out of desperation? Impossible to know which of these riders is the most fried…
Boy their helmets are ugly. I cannot understand it. Why would the helmet industry deliberately ruin the look of their product? Is it supposed to be aerodynamically superior? I can’t see it.
Vermeersch attacks! I’m amused by the label applied here, as if by this point we still didn’t know who’s who. Maybe A.I. did it?
Colbrelli chases down Vermeersch with a quickness.
And now they roll into the velodrome … it’s gonna be a crazy sprint here! What is Colbrelli saying to Van der Poel? Perhaps, “Dude, give it up now. You know you can’t sprint.” Or maybe it’s something totally unrelated, like, “She was a beautiful Latina woman, but she ate nothing but frozen yogurt.”
Vermeersch makes an early move, catching the other two by surprise!
Vermeersch flies toward the line but now Colbrelli comes up fast! It’s down to the wire and Colbrelli comes past in the final 20 meters! He’s got the win!
Vermeersch pounds his handlebars in frustration! He made a brilliant move but just didn’t have the legs!
And now Colbrelli has achieved a feeling of pure blinding flaming alpha-dog-dom such as perhaps only ever exceeded by Captain Ahab (who we must remember is a fictional character). Colbrelli shakes his bike at the sky, daring the gods to defy him!
And now he throws himself on the ground and starts howling like an animal! It’s astonishing to behold! “BAAAAAA-HOO-HOO-HOO! BAAAAAA-HA-HA-HA!” He’s practically hysterical! And you wanna talk about manspreading, this guy takes it to new heights!
Colbrelli is laughing, crying, and howling! Anyone could be forgiven for assuming this man has simply lost his mind!
Now he’s mainly just crying. It’s okay. He’s earned it. But man, what a goofy looking helmet.
Van der Poel is also on the ground, but having much different feelings. He’s not even moving.
An Alpecin-Fenix staffer gently lays a jacket over Van der Poel.
Now Colbrelli is being interviewed:
INTERVIEWER: It looked pretty brutal out there.
COLBRELLI: Yeah, that was hard.
INTERVIEWER: You seem remarkably calm and composed considering you’re the first Italian to win this race in 22 years.
COLBRELLI: Well, I was pretty excited a bit ago, but I kind of got it out of my system.
INTERVIEWER: You—you’ve got some mud on your face. It’s kind of disrespectful to show up to this interview without taking a few moments to wash your face. You’re on camera, you know.
COLBRELLI: No, you’re mistaken. This is an oatmeal facial mask. It’s important to rehydrate your skin after a tough race like that.
INTERVIEWER: Rehydrate? It looked pretty wet out there.
COLBRELLI: Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. You see, oatmeal is a humectant. This means it helps the skin retain any moisture added to it. Meanwhile, oatmeal has naturally occurring glycolic acid, which effectively exfoliates dead skin cells and speeds up cell turnover, so you’re left with softer skin, less visible pores, and a more glowing and dewy appearance. I swear by it.
INTERVIEWER: Minutes ago you were shaking your bike above your head, and then flopping on the ground cackling like a jackal and howling like a he-wolf. And now you’re dispensing beauty tips like a prom queen!
COLBRELLI: I’m often described as a pure sprinter, but actually I’m a very versatile rider.
(Note to readers: it’s possible that I didn’t correctly capture that interview, at least not verbatim. I might have gotten a word or two, or 200, wrong. I do my best.)
Now the riders have cleaned up, changed, brushed their teeth, and headed to the podium for the award ceremony. Look at Van der Poel. He’s like, “Yeah, I guess this race is pretty cool, but there’s lotsa other stuff I couldda done with my day.” Colbrelli looks like he’s pondering something important … perhaps he’s thinking, “I probably shouldn’t be promoting a facial mask you can easily make at home with basic ingredients. I should be holding out for an endorsement deal with, like, SkinCeuticals.” As for Vermeersch, he just looks sad.
Look at this guy. He looks like he’s about to cry.
This is pretty odd, if you ask me. This is Vermeersch’s first season as a pro, and he didn’t even come here as the leader (he was originally slated to work for Gilbert). Besides, Vermeersch is in college, studying history at Ghent University (no, I’m actually not making this up) so the cycling is just a lark anyway. How is he not happier with second place?
Colbrelli gets his giant cobblestone trophy. He looks at it and thinks, “You big rascal. I wonder if I can even manage to hoist you.”
But look, he’s done it! He’s managed to raise that 25-pound rock over his head, despite his little bike racer arms! He’s clearly pretty proud of himself.
You know what, though? The baseball cap and goofy sunglasses kind of ruin the effect. He should have paid more attention to Lizzie Deignan yesterday … she not only didn’t obscure the stone, but wore a proper old-school cycling cap and rocked some sweet nail polish.
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