Paris-Roubaix: a Sunday in hell

"It was an epic race"

October 3, 2021

Rain and clouds appropriately covered Compiègne, France this morning at the Paris-Roubaix start. Sunshine would simply have been out of place here. It’s “The Hell of the North '' after all — and it delivered on all uncharitable fronts.

Yet unpleasant weather conditions are welcome when you’re a rider like Julius van den Berg. “It was for sure one to remember,” said van den Berg after the race. “It was a nice day, we had such epic weather,” he added.

His teammate Langeveld agreed that the rain didn’t make things easier, but it added to the already dramatic flair of the event. It was maybe even welcome.

“This year was a super special edition with the rain. I am happy with the way I rode with Jonas and I think he will be a Roubaix guy for the next few years.”

Jonas Rutsch, a Roubaix first-timer, rode alongside Langeveld throughout the race. This marked the Dutch pro's thirteenth time doing the Queen of the Classics — and his experience showed. It’s the toughest one-day bike race in the world, so it certainly helped to have a veteran rider like him keep morale high for the young riders.

Another young pro that impressed the crowds today: Stefan Bissegger. You wouldn’t have known that this was his first time at Roubaix by watching him ride with  composure even in the most demanding sectors of the race. The 23-year-old pro was in the lead group at several stages and looked like he was riding out of his skin. Quickly into the race, there was a group of determined chasers that had a small gap over the rest of the peloton, including our Swiss ace. 

"It was special to be up there in the lead group. It felt really nice and it was a just a really epic race with the conditions today," said Bissegger.

Inaugurated in 1896, this route has been cruel since its inception. The riders began their journey just north of Paris and no one could prepare them for the chaos and calamity they would meet en route to the velodrome. Veteran rider Mitch Docker can certainly attest to that as he hit the ground early on and had to exit the race early. Yet even in the final race of his career and in the most challenging of circumstances, Docker was still smiling in the team car, happy to have one last shot at his favorite race.

“When I was going across Arenburg, I was happy this is the last time I will do Arenberg. I was in a bad way and it’s just so brutally hard,” said Docker.

The “Tranchée de Wallers-Arenberg” is a 2.3 km long cobbled road or better known as the Arenberg Forest. It’s one of the most difficult sections of the race, and even though Docker took a hard fall before entering it, he still wanted to give it one last attempt. 

“It was good to do it one last time and just to be broken by the end,” said Docker.  

The clouds cleared a bit as the riders approached the finish. The race to the velodrome was on as the riders would say finally goodbye and good riddance to the cobbles. Six hours of racing in the most hellish conditions possible were finally over.

In the end, Sonny Colbrelli took the victory in an unforgettable sprint finish. Despite the gruesome weather and crashes, Rutsch was able to finish strong with an eleventh place finish and his riding partner Langeveld was not far behind him in fifteenth overall. 

“It’s a love/hate affair. Everybody wants to be here and then when you’re here you are wondering why you are here,” said sport director Ken Vanmarcke. “But we are proud of the way we raced,” he added.

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