Mathieu van der Poel unsure what caused John Degenkolb to crash at Paris-Roubaix: ‘If it was my fault, my apologies.’

Mathieu van der Poel delivers Paris-Roubaix masterclass: 'We raced like juniors start to finish'

Photo: Bernard Papon - Pool/Getty Images

ROUBAIX, France (VN) — After a blistering fast race through the “Hell of the North,” Mathieu van der Poel ticked off his third of cycling’s five monuments with a stunning solo victory at Paris-Roubaix.

Sunday’s ride came with its fair share of drama and controversy, with eternal rival Wout van Aert puncturing late and a crash involving John Degenkolb.

Van der Poel already won the Ronde van Vlaanderen 2020 and 2022 and this year’s Milano-Sanremo, but Roubaix was proving elusive.

Good legs but also luck allowed the 28 year-old Dutch rider to finish solo on the iconic velodrome of Roubaix in the north of France.

“It’s unbelievable. Especially when you’re entering the velodrome solo. It’s hard to describe what I felt at that moment,” Van der Poel said in the flash interview.

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When asked about records and challenges for the future Van der Poel said he didn’t have it on his mind. “I’m not really thinking about it. I’m just good at one-day races, especially the monuments which I try to focus on, they are really my races.“

A tailwind blew the peloton at high speeds from start town Compiègne towards the north of France, not allowing a large breakaway group to be formed.

‘The harder the race, the better for me’

Two out of three for Alpecin-Deceuninck. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

As if that wasn’t enough the Jumbo-Visma team blew the race apart at more than 100km from the finish, even before the famous Arenberg forest passage. Van der Poel was always present near the front, avoiding to be caught behind like he was last week in the Ronde.

“After last week in the Ronde, I’ve learned my lesson. It’s strange. You see it the last few years that we go all out from the start. It was also the fastest edition today. Incredible. There was no breakaway. We just raced like juniors from start to finish. It was quite crazy but it wasn’t bad for me. The harder the race, the better it is for me, especially in the final in a race like this where it is difficult to make the difference,” Van der Poel said.

After the cobbles of the Trouée d’Arenberg, Van der Poel was present in a star-studded lead group and surrounded by two teammates whereas Van Aert suddenly was isolated. Van der Poel was proud of what his team pulled off, especially about Jasper Philipsen who went on to finish as runner-up.

“I know he’s a really good rider. He’s one of the only riders in the team who really loves the cobbles; that means a lot. Today he surprised me. We weren’t the strongest team of the Spring classics but today we were the strongest team. It was incredible what everybody did, also in the last group when we were with the three of us. That was really impressive,” Van der Poel said.

From there he tried to make the race even harder by launching multiple accelerations. It helped to bring the numbers down in the lead group but still he reached the final stretches of pavé in the company of more men than he wanted.

“I felt pretty good but if you see the names in front, you don’t just drop them. I tried to make it a hard final but I was unable to drop them. In the end it all worked out, with a bit of luck,” Van der Poel said.

Van der Poel on Degenkolb crash: ‘If it was my fault, my apologies’

Van der Poel and Philipsen console Degenkolb. (Photo: Frank Faugère – Pool/Getty Images)

There was quite a bit of controversy around the bit of luck that delivered Van der Poel the victory.

Teammate Jasper Philipsen hammered over the crown of the cobbles at the Carrefour de l’Arbre and led the group of seven riders. Right behind him was John Degenkolb, Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and the others following in a long line.

Degenkolb moved away from the crown and searched for a smoother path on the right hand side of the road. Van der Poel took over his place, riding next to Degenkolb.

Van der Poel then charged forward, diving into the space between Degenkolb and Philipsen. Disaster struck when Philipsen moved over to the right at the same moment.

As a result, the three riders went shoulder to shoulder with Degenkolb being on the wrong side of the row. The German rider ended up being the one rider who crashed into the grass.

“I haven’t seen the images yet so I have to see if it was my fault or not, if he hit a spectator or not. If it was my fault, my apologies. It was a race situation. I’m glad that I could avoid it,” Van der Poel said at the post-race press conference.

On the Carrefour: ‘It was really unlucky for Wout’

Van der Poel celebrates as Van Aert and Philipsen hit the bell lap. (Photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

While Van der Poel tried to gain back speed Wout van Aert blasted away. Straight away the Belgian star had a gap.

After the final sharp corner on the cobbles Van Aert lost speed due to a puncture and he talked to the team, meanwhile Van der Poel bridged back up.

“I noticed he had mechanical problems because he lost a lot of speed. I didn’t know he punctured. For sure it was a decisive moment. It’s really unlucky for Wout. The race could’ve been completely different. As I said before, not only do you need good legs but also luck; I had both today. For sure it would’ve been a different race without the flat tire. I imagine we would’ve gone to the velodrome together,” Van der Poel said.

From there Van der Poel powered away towards Roubaix and for the chasers it was impossible to come back on him. Van der Poel explained that he no longer suffers as much with his back as he did last year, training more and racing less.

“I’m more confident since my back problems are much better than they were. I’ve got more fun on the bike again, without pain. That’s the main difference. The power I could do in the last 15km was something I wasn’t able to do in the past. for sure I’m stronger than the past few years,” Van der Poel said. “It’s a different approach with less racing. I wanted to be 100% in the races that I do. That’s modern cycling. It was my strongest classics season. Also in Flanders, where Tadej Pogacar was incredibly strong, I could stay alone to the finish line after the Paterberg climb.”

Van der Poel was seen putting a hand in front of his eyes in disbelief as he entered the Roubaix velodrome. When crossing the finish line teammate Philipsen still had to complete another lap but he was celebrating with him.

“It went really quickly all of a sudden. Also today we have to let it sink in and be aware that it will probably never happen again to be first and second in Roubaix. We really have to take the time to enjoy it.”

He’ll take a break from racing and build back up towards the Tour de France with an training camp at altitude and the Tour de Suisse.

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