Because the 2020 edition was canceled due to corona, a bet was made on an October version in the autumn of 2020. But covid-19 also threw a spanner in the works. Then the April edition of Paris-Roubaix was moved again: in October 2021 the Hell of the North finally had to be held again. It was a ride that many cycling fans will not soon forget. For the riders it was a lot of hard work, especially on the cobblestone sections. Mud, mud and more mud.
Paris-Roubaix or the 100m freestyle?
The Dutchman Nils Eekhoff and the Belgian Vermeersch were left with the two of them after a long, long flight. Or long, 78 km before the finish, the two were grabbed by a group of twelve. Because it was an early course due to the appalling conditions.
Because Deceuninck-QuickStep – the cycling team with the most favorites – had a lot of bad luck and crashes along the way, Van der Poel and Wout van Aert were given more room to race. The two cyclocross riders coped well on the muddy cobblestones, something that cannot be said of every rider.
Yet they were still about a minute behind the leading group. At least, Van der Poel, because Van Aert raced behind that again. The Belgian was held up 94 km before entering the Velodrome.
MvdP noticed that and gave it a firm sniff. Van der Poel, Colbrelli, Ballerini and Boivin were in pursuit 70 km before the finish. The group with Van Aert, Stybar and Vanmarcke was on the way again. The Dutchman from Alpecin-Fenix showed that the Hell of the North suits him perfectly, because he looked very strong.
Almost unrecognizable: Mathieu van der (mud) Poel
The leading group had meanwhile been reduced to six: Jasper Philipsen, Tosh van der Sande, Tom Van Asbroeck, Stefan Bissegger, Moscon and Max Walscheid. Van der Poel’s group followed at 50 seconds.
The front rider must represent Wout van Aert.
The Dutchman received little support and took the lead on his own. Van Aert 30 seconds behind ‘MvdP’ and then there was still 60 km to go.
Moscon had meanwhile driven away from Vermeersch and Van Asbroeck. Van der Poel didn’t really come any closer with Colbrelli and Boivin: 1 minute behind. Yet Van der Poel tried again. Alone, chasing Moscon.
And the Italian – after he got a flat tire – also went to the ground at 26 km before the finish. He just slithered away there and saw the chasing group – because Van der Poel didn’t get away – approaching him.
But Moscon did not let itself be known on the extremely heavy cobblestone sections. Van der Poel hit his fellow pursuers once again at 16 km before the end. Back on the hunt for that covert Italian. But now he was caught.
Sonny Colbrelli and Mathieu van der Poel, as far as they are recognizable.
Van der Poel got Colbrelli and the tireless Vermeersch with him. Striking: all three debuted in the Hell of the North. The riders were barely recognizable because of all the dust and mud.
The three broke up at the iconic Velodrome in Roubaix. And there the Italian turned out to be the fastest. He is the first Italian since Andrea Tafi (1999) to win the Hell of the North.
And this is what profit looks like for an Italian:
Van der Poel: ‘Going down fighting’
For a long time Van der Poel lay in the grass on the Roubaix cycling track. He seemed disappointed with his third place in Paris-Roubaix, but it was mainly the fatigue that played tricks on him. “I am happy with the way I was able to race,” said the Alpecin-Fenix rider when the forces returned. “I went down fighting, in a historic edition. This was a Paris-Roubaix to frame.”
“I was apparently the least of the three at the end. I’m glad I was able to take the stage with this at my first performance.”
Van der Poel had to do a lot of work along the way to retrieve previously escaped riders. He was not always supported. “The rest didn’t want to ride. I had to do quite a bit of work along the way. The best was gone at the end. This was the highest achievable.”