For the first time in years, Degenkolb was mixing it at the front of a major classic as he went toe-to-toe with Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and others. It all came to an abrupt end when he was squeezed out by Van der Poel and Jasper Philipsen before he went tumbling into a spectator.
“I’ve a lot of pain in my left shoulder but I think it’s not easy to describe what a disappointment it is,” Degenkolb said, his voice still shaking slightly as he spoke. “It’s been a long time that I was up there in a final like this and I think I rode a really good race and it’s really disappointing to get the chance of a good result taking away like that.”
Degenkolb would never regain contact with any of the other members of the lead group and finished on his own in seventh place some 2:35 behind Van der Poel, his best performance since his 2015, but perhaps it could have been more. He also injured his shoulder in the fall, though its not clear how serious it is.
His emotions at the finish were clear as he collapsed on the ground in tears. Both Van der Poel and Philipsen took a moment to try and console him, but it’s not clear that he even noticed their presence.
“For sure, I was not the strongest in that group, but Roubaix is Roubaix, and anything can happen when you’re in that group and so close to the final,” he said.
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Here’s what happened:
With just over 16km to go on the Carrefour de l’Arbre, Degenkolb was riding in second wheel in what had gone from being an 11-rider group to containing just seven. Philipsen was pulling on the front and Degenkolb swung over to the right side of the road to use the gutter.
Van der Poel, who had been in third wheel, decided shortly after to move through the gap between Philipsen and Degenkolb, only for the former to swing to his right. Philipsen moved back out, but not before Degenkolb clipped a spectator and went tumbling along the cobbles.
“It’s hard to remember, I know that I was on the right side and then suddenly, first Philipsen moved to the right, and I was already on the right in the ditch, and then also Mathieu was trying to squeeze through, and pushed me basically into the spectators on the side of the road. There was no more room for me, and I crashed. That’s all I can say,” he said.
Pushed further on whether any blame could be apportioned to one or both of the Alpecin-Deceuninck riders, Degenkolb refused to cast any stones in their direction.
“I don’t want to say something now because I haven’t seen the images. It’s hard to remember,” he said.
While there was plenty of disappointment for Degenkolb to come to terms with, there were some better moments to remember.
In addition to one of his best performances in years, Degenkolb also got to lead the group of favorites across sector 17 from Hornaing to Wandignies, a sector that was named after him in honor of his 2015 win.
“I’m extremely disappointed with the outcome of the race but I think being in first position with such a selective group on my own pavé that meant so much to me today. It was an outstanding moment that I will remember for the rest of my life,” he said.
— Team DSM (@TeamDSM) April 9, 2023