A weekend in ‘Hell’: Did a wet Roubaix deliver? Moscon dances with destiny, Femmes was five-star without Arenberg

A ramble on Paris-Roubaix's big weekend: Was a wet Roubaix a good Roubaix? How to handle Gianni Moscon? And give us more retro kits please.

Photo: Getty Images

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ROUBAIX, France (VN) – That’s one historic weekend in the books.

Lizzie Deignan dazzled in the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes, Sonny Colbrelli and Mathieu van der Poel slugged out a men’s race of survival, and heck, it was muddy.

Rain, rain, come again: Was a wet Roubaix a good Roubaix?

Greg van Avermaet won’t be seeing straight for some time.

We’d all been hankering for it for the last 19 years, but did a wet Roubaix live up to the hype?

First things first, was it really a “wet” Roubaix?

Well for the first half of the men’s race it sure was soggy, but the sun shone bright over Roubaix to dry things out nicely for the final. And the real damage in the women’s race had been done in the days before rollout rather than being caused by the final hours of showers.


Whether the rain fell during the race or not, the already accumulated swamps that flooded the cobbles made one heck of a pair of races. Only 96 riders made it to the finish of the men’s race inside the time cut – meaning 79 didn’t. Less than half the riders finished Paris-Roubaix Femmes. Those numbers speak for themselves. A wet Roubaix cranks the brutality up to bursting point.

Also read: Thrills and spills at Paris-Roubaix Femmes: Less than half finish, and 44 miss time cut

Although the scores of riders that didn’t see the velodrome may disagree, the mix of wet and dry conditions made for a perfect afternoon in the armchair.

A weekend of full-on rain would have turned both races into slow-motion slugfests, a test of perseverence as much as racecraft.

But Sunday’s ride saw the slow-brawl attrition of a wet race come to a close with a fast, attacking spectacle as Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert traded haymakers before Florian Vermeersch lit up the final. Likewise in the women’s race – Lizzie Deignan danced through the drenched stones but made her experience count with a perfectly-paced 80 kilometer solo that may not have been achievable in the mud.

A wet Roubaix was just as “epic” as we hoped – but any wetter would have been a true washout.

Do bad things happen to ‘bad’ riders? Gianni Moscon dances with destiny

Punctures, crashes curtailed Moscon’s massive ride.

Do bad things happen to “bad” people? Who knows.

Gianni Moscon came to within 30 kilometers of a staggering solo win in Roubaix on Sunday, but when a puncture and then a crash saw the Ineos Grenadier caught and dropped by the Sonny Colbrelli-train, there was a sense that some in the press room thought that justice had been served.

“I tried to attack from far out and gave everything I had. I just had a little bad luck with the puncture and then I was a bit on my limit,” Moscon said afterward. “When you are on the limit, you make mistakes.”

Also read: Moscon rues puncture problems at Paris-Roubaix

This isn’t the place to launch into a debate on the rights and wrongs of the bone fide bad boy of pro cycling. Moscon’s long history of violence, temper tantrums, racist insults and general buffoonery is well-known.

Like many other divisive figures in sport, Moscon’s background will always precede and overshadow his palmarès. How would the cycling world have reacted had he made it to  complete a spectacular solo in the Roubaix velodrome? It would have made for a tricky write, and one heck of a debate on the cycling socialsphere.

But by finishing in fourth, Moscon danced with his D-Day of media scrutiny but avoided it.

I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves second chances, but it’s hard to overlook Moscon’s long bleak history of idiocy.

One day, Moscon may be back at the front of a big bike race, and then it will be time to decide how to handle a very bad boy that is a very good bike rider.

“I tried. Fourth place – we will try again next year,” he said.

No Arenberg, no problem for Paris-Roubaix Femmes

ROUBAIX, FRANCE - OCTOBER 02: Elisabeth Deignan-Armitstead of United Kingdom and Team Trek - Segafredo competes through cobblestones sector during the 1st Paris-Roubaix 2021 - Women's Elite a 116,4km race from Denain to Roubaix / #ParisRoubaixFemmes / #ParisRoubaix / on October 02, 2021 in Roubaix, France. (Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)
Arenberg or not, Deignan was just glad to be racing. (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

At 114-kilometers in length, some questioned if the Paris-Roubaix Femmes was too short and “too easy.” The absence of the notoriously brutal 5-star Trouée d’Arenberg sector heightened the doubts that the Paris Roubaix Femmes wasn’t as monumental as it could or should have been before the race rolled out Saturday.

But what was the reality?

ASO seems to have gotten it spot on for the inaugural ride through the “Hell of the North.”

Lizzie Deignan won the race in just a shade under three hours – short in comparison to the near four-hour effort of other major women’s classics. But judging by the state of the riders coming in behind Deignan, three hours was more than enough.

Emma Norsgaard and several riders from Drops Cycling and Alé BTC collapsed in shell-shocked tears after they rode into the velodrome, many of them covered in mud, some streaked with blood. Much more may have seen the list of DNFs far higher than the already huge list of non-finishers.

Deignan herself thought the 115km course was just right, even without Arenberg.

“It was our first Roubaix, and I think all of us have gained a huge amount of experience,” she said. “It wasn’t to be underestimated – the race is very difficult and very challenging and dangerous. Of course, there is going to be development – I don’t expect that this race is going to be the same in 10 years’ time, but I think it has been a good start.”

Also read: Deignan: ‘We are part of history’

2021 can be seen as an appetizer. A longer, drier, Arenberg-edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes will be served in due course. And perhaps ASO will have recitified the shocking prize pot mismatch by then, too,

AVV waves goodbye to off-season dreams

One rider who perhaps found the cobblestones one stretch too far this weekend was Annemiek van Vleuten. A heavy crash left the veteran with a double fracture of her pelvis as well as a broken shoulder, putting a torpedo right into the heart of her off-season plans.

“Not a 2021 happy end for me. Stupid crash. Just wanted to go to the finish safe …” she wrote on Twitter. “A long recovery staying in bed coming up. Bye bye holiday. Bye bye recharging. I have done this more often but energy is running out.”

Van Vleuten is as well-known for her off-season travel adventures – including scuba diving and hiking – as she is for her huge long-range attacks. Although AvV was into the closing phase of her race season and won’t be missing much competition, the 38-year-old will be cursing the cobbles as she reschedules her holiday plans this fall.

There was a sense on the startline Saturday that the women’s peloton was turning carthwheels just that their day in Roubaix had finlly arrived after a 125 year wait – hopefuly that will keep Annemiek content through the Autumn too.

Florian Vermeersch – history student, town mayor, not Tom Boonen

Florian Vermeersch bettered Mathieu van der Poel and nearly outsprinted Sonny Colbrelli to land a stellar second place Sunday.

Vermeersch is a name you’re not likely to forget once you’ve heard it a first time, but who the heck is this kid?

A lot more than a bike rider, that’s what. Not content with risking it all on the short fuse future of bike riding, the 22-year-old started a history degree at the turn of last year, and also holds a political role in his local Belgian region.

Oh, and as well as training, studying and playing politic, he’s now been heaped with the huge expectations of the Belgian public. Vermeersch followed in Tom Boonen’s wheeltracks Sunday by landing on the podium in his Paris-Roubaix debut.

For now, Vermeersch isn’t going to get bogged down in the Boonen bandwagon. He’s just going to keep doing what Vermeersch does.

“I don’t want to and will not compare myself to Tom Boonen. He’s got such a big palmarès,” he said Sunday. “For me to equal that will take a lot more big achievements. I’m just focusing on my own path. I’m really happy with this today. We’ll see what the future brings.”

Give us more throwback jerseys – Delko’s La Vie Claire kit

More of this, please.

After MvdP and Co. rocked the Raymond Poulidor-era Mercier team throwback jersey for the Tour de France, the French Delko squad rolled back the years to 1985 with its La Vie Claire kits, complete with Mondrian squares and sizing style.

Is it a cheap PR-shot or a genuine nod to the sport’s awesome history?

Bah, who cares, I dig it. It’s fun for a team to change it up every now and then and if there’s a genuine meaning behind it, all the better.

Shame you could hardly see Delko’s jerseys beneath all the mud, but still.

An American in France

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