Paris-Roubaix 2021: Sonny Colbrelli braves the mud and the rain to achieve a spectacular victory in the sprint

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Sonny Colbrelli was regarded for years as a second-tier sprinter.

He spent the 2021 season changing this perception, with victories in Romandie and Dauphiné and at the European Championships. However, it took today to transform him into a champion.

The 31-year-old Italian had never taken the start from Paris-Roubaix before, but he covered the 268 km with as much finesse as the one who has seen it all – several times – before.

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Of course, the two riders who accompanied him at the finish were also there for the first time, and none of those who lined up this morning in Compiègne had faced the cobbles in such difficult conditions.

It was the race we’ve all been waiting for, more than 19 years after the last edition of the Hell of the North taking place in the wet. Few would surely say it wasn’t worth the wait.

There were those who feared that the rainy weather would make Paris-Roubaix a game of Russian roulette rather than a bike race. They didn’t need to worry. Of course, it called for different skills, benefited those with better bike handling skills, those who only rode in power, but it wasn’t just about who was standing.

In fact, in many ways the 118th edition of Paris-Roubaix has clung closely to the traditional formula, only with a little – okay, a lot – more mud.

It all started long before the tar, when a threatening rain fell on the roads of Compiègne. Easier than many in the past, a fragile 29 breakaway came through before two hours of racing had passed. The first name on that particular team sheet? A youngster named Florian Vermeersch, at the end of his first season in the WorldTour, without a pro victory to his credit. More – much more – on Vermeersch later.

Accidents also preceded the cobblestones. With raised nerves, wet or dry, they always do. Stefan Kung of Groupama FDJ fell once on a roundabout, a second time on the axis of a left turn. He would descend a third time, on the cobbles, and that would be all for the Swiss rider. Force fainting, and former champion, Peter Sagan was also the victim of jerky brake levers, withdrawn from the race before the fifth sector of cobbles.

‘Unbelievable. I am very happy ‘- Sonny Colbrelli delighted with the victory of Paris-Roubaix

By miracle, the famous formidable farm tracks did not make their first victim until a pilot of Qhubeka Assos fell on the sector 26. Already covered with mud to the point of being unrecognizable, the unknown drove again in little of time.

The break was never going to last long in large numbers. Four riders split in the lead, led by Ineos veteran Luke Rowe. Follow the less experienced names of Vermeersch – him again -, Nils Eekhoff and Max Walscheid. The quartet made good progress before a mechanic made it for Luke Rowe, and a wheel slip ended Walscheid’s hopes. It seemed certain that the remaining duo, looking as miserable as anyone on the bike, would soon be adopted by the larger group of escapees behind.

They were not. Instead, they extended their lead to over a minute in Sector 21, with 116.5 km to go. No one imagined that either of the runners would make it to the finish, but they worked well together, making a good punch.

As the Arenberg forest loomed on the flat horizon of northern France, the first shots were seen by the favorites. An attack by Mathieu van der Poel was quickly stopped by Michal Kwiatkowski, who entered the race as a beginner and a veteran.

If the riders did see their challenges end on his boards, the Arenberg stage was not the catalyst for the chaos that many had predicted. The lead pair managed to pass safely, like most of the other big names.

Two sectors later, Eekhoff and Vermeersch’s time of solitude was over. As they were overtaken by the biggest breakers, the race seemed to heat up behind. With nearly 180km covered, a certain Sonny Colbrelli slips away from the peloton. At kilometer 200, Mathieu van der Poel had also taken his inevitable step.

Colbrelli triumphed

Image credit: Getty Images

Van der Poel looked like the unstoppable force. Admittedly, the other pre-race favorite, Wout Van Aert, could not stop him. Along with stowaways Haussler, Lampaert and Stybar, Van der Poel engulfs the head of Colbrelli’s group and seems to be getting closer to the front of the race, itself gradually shrinking.

Near the paving stones of Orchies, it contained only three characters: Gianni Moscon, Tom Van Asbroeck and Florian Vermeersch. Him again. How? ‘Or’ What?

With the closure of the Van Der Poel group, Gianni Moscon lost confidence in the capabilities of his business, so he left on his own. If in doubt … Whether it was a winning move or not, it would leave him no tactical decision to make.

As Moscon marched, Van Der Poel quickly formed a last gang of pursuers. However, neither seemed desperate to help him, and the Dutch strongman did not pressure them to fuel the fire. While Colbrelli would not allow MVDP to go alone, chasing him if necessary, nor was he inclined to cooperate. Bahrain runner Victorious has made fewer, shorter and slower turns than those around him. Simply put: if Van Der Poel wanted to bring Moscon back, he would have to bring him back.

With the race entering its final stages, whether Moscon would be overtaken was still far from certain. That is, until he suffered a puncture in the rear wheel, which caused him to lose twenty seconds in advance, then crashed his new motorcycle in sector seven, 26 km away from the ‘arrival.

Still, Moscon managed to hold out longer than it should have, although the inevitable collection took place three sectors later, the equally inevitable shipment to the other end a few yards down the road.

Paris-Roubaix 2021 highlights as Sonny Colbrelli sprints to a resounding victory

Van Asbroeck has already done without, the peloton led by Wout van Aert closing but not quickly enough, the Hell of the North 2021 was reduced to three rookies: Mathieu van der Poel, Sonny Colbrelli and Florian Vermeersch. Sorry. Who? Still, Van der Poel seemed to be doing the lion’s share of the leg work.

As we approached the most famous velodrome in the world, Vermeersch must have tried something. Of course, it didn’t work, but of course he had to try.

On the upper side of the home stretch of the André Petrieux arena, it was no surprise when the Lotto-Soudal rider took the first step.

At km 268, however, it was Sonny Colbrelli who had the legs for the finish, maneuvering between his two rivals to claim his first Monument of a length. After leaving the sacred track, the first Italian to win Paris-Roubaix since Andrea Tafi in 1999 lifted his bike to the heavens before collapsing into the grass with a howl of jubilation.

In his immediate post-race interview, the winner did not seem to know the name of his Belgian fellow rider, who finished second, referring to him only as “the Lotto-Soudal rider”. That alone should say something about the magnitude of Florian Vermeersch’s second place.

Florian Vermeersch made a brilliant effort but was beaten in second place

Image credit: Getty Images

Mathieu van der Poel, for his part, may have ended up with some regrets about the way he rode.

Colbrelli, Dan Lloyd said on The Breakaway afterwards, “is slightly smarter than Van Der Poel, who never seems to want to save energy.”

Which should not be seen as a sleight of hand towards the Italian. No rider could reach the finish of this beautiful and brutal edition of this beautiful and brutal race, let alone win it, without giving everything he had.

Eurosport commentator Rob Hatch had the final say. “Today is a day we will not forget,” he said. “Each of these horsemen is a warrior.”

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