Le Pays De France - Cobble-hating Van Baarle comes of age with Paris-Roubaix victory

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Cobble-hating Van Baarle comes of age with Paris-Roubaix victory
Cobble-hating Van Baarle comes of age with Paris-Roubaix victory / Photo: © AFP

Cobble-hating Van Baarle comes of age with Paris-Roubaix victory

Dutch rider Dylan van Baarle of Ineos Grenadiers admitted he hated the cobbles after winning cycling's epic 257km Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, emerging from the 30 sections of dusty, uneven old mining roads alone for a solo triumph in glorious sunshine.

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Jouneyman Van Baarle held his head in his hands crossing the line before leaping off his bike and hoisting it in the air as he screamed with joy and relief for his sixth ever elite level win.

"Normally I hate the cobbles. Like everyone else I prefer the tarmac. But when you win then it's fun," he said of the 54km of rough hewn giant cobbles in France's north-eastern flatlands that make this race so exceptionally challenging.

He did, however, close his eyes and kiss the giant stone cobble offered as the winner's trophy, savouring a career making moment.

Much-touted Belgian ace Wout van Aert of Jumbo was second, a full 1min 47sec adrift of the winner. Swiss time-trial specialist Stefan Kung of FDJ was third.

Known as "The Queen of the Classics", because of its extreme length and difficulty, Paris-Roubaix is rarely taken by a solo breakaway winner.

The 29-year-old Van Baarle had been threatening to win such a race. He finished a narrow second at both the recent Tour of Flanders, another of cycling's five one-day 'Monuments', and at the 2021 world championships.

"After the worlds I finally started to believe in myself," explained the winner.

"But I'm lost for words, after the second at Flanders and now winning this race, its a Monument," said van Baarle.

"I couldn't believe it when I got the velodrome and I was completely alone."

Fifty of the 169 starters dropped out and another 12 finished after the cut off time as only 107 competitors finished in the classified times.

- 'Ten years of experience' -

After joyously embracing his rider Ineos team principal Dave Brailsford said Van Baarle had galvanised all his experience to take the win.

"He's earned it, he's developed his career and that was ten years of experience all coming together for him. He's got his moves together and he's such a strong rider," Brailsford said.

The man who beat Van Baarle at Flanders, Mathieu van der Poel, could only finish ninth.

"That was just relentless, nobody had it easy. I was at the back when Ineos made their attack. I went down fighting, but I couldn't hold on," he said.

Belgian Quick Step rider Yves Lampaert had been in the mix late on but hit a spectator who leaned too far into the road, the stricken cyclist veering wildly across to the opposite side of the road and hit a second spectator in a nasty fall before rallying to take tenth.

The winner dropped his last companion on the toughest cobbled section of the closing stages, when Slovenia's Matej Mohoric could no longer hold on.

It is the first time Ineos Grenadiers have won this race.

"Cycling has changed in recent years, and even though all the attacks started early, I still felt good after 250km," van Baarle said.

Two of his Ineos teammates also recently won classics as the Amstel Gold fell to Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski while American Magnus Sheffield claimed the Brabantse Pijl classic.

On Sunday, the often bleak flat fields that skirt the Belgian border were a glistening green in the sunshine in stark contrast to last year's covid-delayed mud-splattered race, run through an October deluge.

Van Baarle took 5hrs 37mins to finish the 257km course in bone-dry weather with a record-setting average speed of 45.7kmh as riders were able to avoided the bumpy cobbles by racing on the dirt verges.