Completely filthy and exhausted, John Degenkolb lay in the legendary Roubaix velodrome and let his tears run free. The veteran put on a splendid performance at the fastest run in Paris-Roubaix history, but when he crossed the finish line in seventh, amid thunderous applause from the fans, he was only the winner of hearts. A fall after a collision with the later triumphant Mathieu van der Poel had shattered the dream of the second success in the “Hell of the North” after 2015.
“It’s been a long time since I had such a good race. It’s really disappointing that the chance for a good result was taken away from me. I certainly wasn’t the strongest in the group, but Roubaix is Roubaix and anything can happen,” said Degenkolb with red eyes. It was a fall like it happens in almost every race in cycling. Finding a culprit is nearly impossible. But the point in time, about 18 kilometers before the finish in the rock-hard Carrefour de l’Arbre sector, destroyed everything for Degenkolb that he had built up in the 240 kilometers before.
When he reached the velodrome more than two minutes after solo winner van der Poel, the fans cheered him wildly. They had witnessed the drama on the route via the large video screen. “Recording the atmosphere here was just emotional,” Degenkolb told “CyclingMagazine”. “I was just delirious. I drove as fast as possible so that after the fall I just made it to the finish.”
It was little consolation that Degenkolb already had a large cobblestone at home that the Roubaix winner received. “I’m a racing driver and haven’t hung up my bike yet. I had more in me today than just seventh place,” said the 34-year-old. Degenkolb has a very special connection to the race: Not only is it his favorite date of the year, he even saved the U23 race once. As a thank you, they named one of the 29 cobblestone sectors after him. An honor that even Eddy Merckx received just a few days ago.
Degenkolb might have to nibble on one question for a while. Will he ever catch a race like that in Roubaix again? Born in Thuringia, he was omnipresent, sticking to the right rear wheel when Wout van Aert increased the speed for the first time, as well as when van der Poel attacked. In addition to the nose and the legs, the material was also right. From the group of seven favorites it might have been enough for the podium.
In van der Poel and second-placed Jasper Philipsen, the two pros whose driving line was fatal to Degenkolb celebrated on the. Third was Favorit van Aert with a grim expression in the velodrome. The Belgian had increased the pace when van der Poel and Degenkolb got caught. But when he was in front with the Dutchman at the end of the Carrefour de l’Arbre, his rear tire was flat.
Van der Poel raced safely to victory in the Roubaix, which was fastest at an average of 46.841 km/h. “I had one of the best days on the bike. I kept attacking, but I couldn’t outperform the others. When Wout had a defect, I drove as fast as I could. Of course it’s bad luck, but that’s part of the race,” said van der Poel. The cross world champion has now won three of the five cycling monuments. Victories in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Lombardy are still missing.