Paris-Roubaix storylines of perseverance and pain: ‘Hell of the North’ lives up to name

From Christophe Laporte's collapsing wheel to Trek-Segafredo's entire team not finishing except one, the 2022 Paris-Roubaix produced drama, heartbreak, and elation.

Photo: James Startt/VeloNews

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Every rider starting Paris-Roubaix will have stories to tell for the rest of their careers.

Every edition of the “Queen of the Classics” turns into a personal battle against the elements, against the pavé, and against themselves. On a good day, a rider will “float” over the bumps and lumps of the 54km of cobblestones. On a bad day, wheels and wills can collapse under the pressure.

Pushed along by tailwinds and an aggressive Ineos Grenadiers, the 2022 edition was the fastest in more than a century of the race’s history.

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Paris-Roubaix exists as an anomaly and as anachronism. In today’s safety-conscious peloton, the road conditions venerated on Paris-Roubaix would be banned outright.

Cycling celebrates its most emotional and brutal day every April to cap cycling’s “Holy Week.” With the 169 starters, from the winner with Dylan van Baarle to the last into the velodrome with Bas Tietema, the “Hell of the North” lived up to its name.

Here are some of the key numbers and wild stories from Sunday’s day in hell:

The winner: A first for the history books

1. Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers): Lots of firsts here, with the fastest edition ever of the “Hell of the North” at 45.792kph, and with Ineos Grenadiers finally taking its first edition of Paris-Roubaix. The super-team’s twice been on the podium, but Ineos rode everyone into the ground by splitting the bunch in the first half of the race, and Van Baarle had the turbos to finish it off. The victory capped a breakthrough spring classics campaign for Ineos and for Van Baarle, who missed the time cut last year to set a new record this year. No one can accuse the team of being “just” a Tour de France winner anymore.

The podium chasers: Leaving it too late

Behind Van Baarle, there was plenty of drama as Van Aert mounts a late-race chase, Lampaert crashes out of a possible podium, and Küng confirms his promise.

Wout Van Aert prepares for sign-in. Questions surrounded the Belgian champion’s condition as he was coming off a bout with COVID. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

2. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) at 1:47 back: Some were quick to point out what was “another” second place for the Belgian star. Van Aert pushed back at some of those comments and some of the pointed questions about whether or not he should have raced after coming down with COVID-19. Damn the critics — and how can anyone criticize his ride anyway? — Van Aert proved again he is a class by himself. Even hobbled, he nearly won the race. Making his result even more extraordinary were the series of technical problems he overcame during the race, and he rode on four different bikes during the race. Roubaix is about being patient and going the distance. Even more surprising? This is the first Roubaix podium for Van Aert.

3. Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ): The big Swiss time machine isn’t quite yet the second coming of Fabian Cancellara, but he’s close. Küng packs the brawn, build, and motor to be a natural in the northern classics, and Sunday’s breakthrough podium only served to confirm his class. He finished in the top-10 in the last five classics he started, and finished off his spring campaign with his first monument podium. Andy Rihs would be proud.

4. Tom Devrient (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert): The 30-year-old Belgian delivered one of those delicious outlier results that Roubaix so often turns up. He rode into the early break, and then just kept hanging around. He couldn’t quite hang on to challenge for the podium, however.

5. Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious): It seemed like Mohorič was destined to ride away with Roubaix when he was off the front with two others with a gap of two minutes going into the final hour of racing. Pressure from behind and a puncture eventually saw his bid evaporate. Mohorič raced with an extra wheel, inspired by Sonny Colbrelli, last year’s winner and teammate who missed the race after a health scare. Fifth on Sunday to go with his victory at Milan-San Remo confirms that Slovenians can do more than just win grand tours.

Second chase group: Top Frenchman and Trek-Segafredo’s lone finisher

6. Adrien Petit (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) at 2:27 back: The best French rider  and part of the only two teams to put two in the top-10. It’s not quite as bad as the Tour de France, but it’s been a long time since a French rider won Roubaix. The last was Frédéric Guesdon back in 1997.

7. Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo): Racing on his 30th birthday, Stuyven looked to have the legs to hang with Van Aert and the battle for the podium, but a cruel puncture took him out of the chasing group. Incredibly, he battled on to be the only finisher from Trek-Segafredo. The team buried itself when its leaders missed the early split, and then crashes and mechanicals took their toll, with pre-race favorite Mads Pedersen among the team’s six DNFs.

8. Laurent Pichon (Arkéa-Samsic):  A superb ride by going long in the early break, and the top finisher from a ProTeam second-tier team.

The chasers: From ‘MVDP’ to a UK sensation

The remnants of the podium chasers came into the velodrome in dribs and drabs, most trailing off the back of a group and not contesting the sprint, or riding in alone after losing contact under pressure of the high speeds.

9. Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) at 2:34 back: For many, a top-10 at Roubaix would be a career highlight. For a rider of Van der Poel’s caliber, it’s seen as a disappointment. Van der Poel simply didn’t have the legs to follow when Van Aert and Co. surged on the late sectors. With a podium at Milan-San Remo and victory at Tour of Flanders, “MVDP” leaves the classics happier than he could have imagined when he was nursing a back injury this winter. Up next: a Giro d’Italia debut.

Mathieu van der Poel taking in the view in the Roubaix showers. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

10. Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) at 2:59: The cycling gods can turn cruel in an instant. An over-zealous fan clipped the Belgian’s handlebar, and he couldn’t control his back-end to crash out of contention for the podium. After a rough spring for both him and his team, a podium in Roubaix would have been a much-needed salve. At least he wasn’t seriously injured.

11. Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers) at 4:30: One of the revelations of the spring classics campaign, the 22-year-old WorldTour rookie delivered one surprise after another across the classics. On Sunday, he played a key role in setting up Van Baarle for his winning attack. Could the UK finally see its first Roubaix winner? Expectations will be sky high.

12. Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) at 4:33: With a tailwind and fast conditions, this was perhaps the Norwegian’s last best chance to win Roubaix. Still, 12th is his third-best career finish in the velodrome, and caps a strong spring with third at Milan-Torino and victory at Scheldeprijs.

13. Florian Sénéchal (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) at 4:37: The Frenchman was hoping for more, but the former junior Roubaix winner seems destined for more on the cobbles.

The third chase group: big names, bigger disappointments

A big group of nearly 20 riders came in at 4:47 back, filling out 14th to 35th on the results sheet. 

Leading the bunch was Jordi Meeus, the top Bora-Hansgrohe finisher on the day. At 17th and 18th were Greg Van Avermaet and John Degenkolb, two former winners and two aging warriors still in the thick of it, but perhaps a few cylinders short.

Iván García Cortina was also in the group as the top Spanish rider and the top Movistar finisher. Philippe Gilbert rode with the No. 1 bib in his final Roubaix to finish proudly in the group despite starting with some breathing problems. Filippo Ganna was last in the group, at least earning his first official Roubaix result after suffering with some punctures.

Busted up and broken down: Quick-Step on the back foot

Another group of eight riders came in at 12:35 back that included Kasper Asgreen and Zdenēk Štybar. Crashes and punctures derailed Quick-Step’s chances across the day. Former winner Niki Terpstra rode in with the group.

Every rider will have a story of endurance and determination at Paris-Roubaix. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

Relatively large groups rolled in together at 15:16 and 15:28 back, respectively. Riders looked for alliances just to get to the finish line. Guillaume Boivin came in with a bunch at 15:28 back. Tenth last year in a breakout ride, the Canadian’s hopes were torpedoed by illness, but he rode with pride to make it to the velodrome. Cameron Wurf rolled in with a group at 24:44 back. The Ineos Grenadiers rider who is also a world-class triathlete keeps seeing race days this spring. Later this season he will put his focus on Ironman, but made it to the velodrome in 94th in his first career Roubaix result.

Cofidis rider Syzmon Sajnok was the last officially classified racer in 107th at 26:44 back. Some went to the Roubaix showers, nearly everyone collapsed in the infield.

The DNF roll was 63, far from a record

Sunday’s relatively warm conditions and tailwinds meant for a fast race, and some 63 riders did not manage to finish, a number that includes riders over the time limit. Still, that’s more than a third that did not receive an official result. That number is less than the 78, who did not finish last year’s mud bath, and way less than the modern record of the 169 DNF’s in 2001 in the wet edition that only saw 55 finishers.

Top among the DNF list was the entire Trek-Segafredo team, except Jasper Stuyven, who managed to make it to the velodrome in seventh. Last year’s revelation with Florian Vermeersch did not see a repeat of his miracle ride, while Imanol Erviti did not arrive to the velodrome in what was his record-tying 17th career Roubaix start.

Christophe Laporte started as a favorite for Jumbo-Visma, but his back wheel collapsed a bizarre incident, and despite three bike changes, he did not finish. Anthony Turgis, second at Milan-San Remo, was another DNF, as Total Energies missed the presence of Peter Sagan, who did not race. Bahrain-Victorious rider Chun Kai Feng of Taiwan was the day’s lone non-starter, and no team classified all of its starters in the velodrome.

There were 12 riders who rode into the velodrome, but missed the time cut, and thus did not receive an official result. The hors-délai rule was imposed at 8 percent of the winner’s time at 26:57, meaning that Roubaix rookie Magnus Sheffield, who was part of five riders who crossed the line at 28:19, was deprived of an official placing by 82 seconds.

Others OTL included Victor Campenaerts and Bas Tietema, who finished more than 1 hour behind the time cut. The Dutch rider was third in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs in 2014 and later raced on the BMC development team before emerging as a YouTube star with his “Tour de Tietema” program. In January, he signed a contract with the Belgian team, and collapsed in tears as he crossed the line, almost entirely alone in the velodrome except for some workers taking down the fencing.

Paris-Roubaix can be cruel, but it always delivers amazing drama and stories of survival. Every rider will have one to tell after the fastest Roubaix in history.

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