Mathieu van der Poel, the domination and charm of old-fashioned winners

Mathieu van der Poel, on the Paris-Roubaix road, April 7, 2024. BERNARD PAPON / AFP

His white jersey remained white. Not a drop of mud, blood or tar. Mathieu van der Poel crossed the 259 kilometers of Paris-Roubaix 2024 like a prince, which he won alone, in his immaculate world champion jersey, Sunday April 7.

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Super favorite, super winner. As linear in the suspense of the race as in this straight race which levels the northern plains. 59 kilometers from the finish, the Dutchman from the Belgian team Alpecin-Deceuninck places his decisive acceleration without even trying to trap his opponents, on one of the less rough paved paths of the day, with a slight descent. It was Chemin des Abattoirs. Near the chicory factories, where the municipality of Orchies (North) had once installed the cutting of cattle, with its annexed tripe and its tank filled with blood.

Winner at a record speed of 47.8 km/h, Mathieu van der Poel is three minutes ahead of his Belgian teammate Jasper Philipsen and the Dane Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek). He thus won his second Paris-Roubaix in two years and his second great classic in two weeks, after his 44-kilometer breakaway in the Tour of Flanders.

“I had not planned to attack so far and find myself alone in the race”, declares the winner, with a surprised look. Indeed, behind his seemingly inevitable success, the man known to be the grandson of Raymond Poulidor avoided some falls and tactical errors. Such as this hesitation after the Arenberg trench, when his teammates began to disunite, or this narrowly avoided accident, 42 kilometers from the goal, when a spectator threw a cap in his direction. Van der Poel triumphed, however, and without a rival equal to him. The only one who could have worried him, but whom he always tamed in the great classics, the Belgian Wout van Aert, had withdrawn since a heavy fall on March 27.

A very personal way to lead your career

There is an imagery of “old-fashioned” cycling behind this rider widely adopted by the French public, in his elegant strength: he does not wear gloves – in defiance of falls –, draws his energy from his kidneys and his stability on the stones of his broad shoulders, spectacularly agile, as he demonstrated in the Arenberg gap, this hideous cobblestone passage, crossed at the head of the peloton.

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This outrageous superiority is reminiscent of the silhouette of Eddy Merckx, triple winner in Roubaix. However, if he revives here and there the offensives of the “Cannibal”, if he gets closer to his contemporaries Tadej Pogacar or Remco Evenepoel in their fiery escapes, Mathieu van der Poel has chosen a very personal way to conduct his career.

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2024-04-07 18:37:32
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