Sonny Colbrelli takes sprint inside Roubaix velodrome to cap off season to remember
Before the start of the Tour de France, Bahrain-Victorious team-mate Fred Wright warned that Sonny Colbrelli's form was frightening, the Italian managing two podium finishes in that race but just missing out on a stage victory.
He'd already won a stage of the Tour de Romandie, Dauphiné, and taken the Italian national champion's jersey, but was hungry for more. Replacing his tricolore jersey with that of the European road race champion, he also won a stage at the Benelux Tour and the Memorial Marco Pantani - a very successful season already.
Despite looking ominous in the Worlds road race, the best he could manage was 10th as Julian Alaphilippe blew away the rest of the field - for the form he'd shown, a truly massive victory had so far eluded him.
Then Roubaix, lining up as an outside favourite alongside cyclocross stars Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, who were expected to prosper in the muddy conditions.
But it was the Italian who bid his time in the wheels before pushing the issue himself, then latching on to Mathieu van der Poel's move as he came through.
All Colbrelli had to do then was persevere, avoid trouble and wait for the velodrome. Not allowing Vermeersch to escape in the run-in, the 31-year-old timed his sprint perfectly to pip the young Belgian and cap off a very intelligent race. He lay on the floor after the finish line, screaming in delight and exhaustion. A career-defining victory, and a cobblestone, is now his.
Mathieu van der Poel outsprinted for second cobbled Monument in a row
Mathieu van der Poel was one of a select few riders looking forward to the miserable conditions lying in between the 250km between the start in Compiègne and the finish in Roubaix.
This gave hope that the Dutchman was feeling better than at the World Championships a week previously, where he had been fairly anonymous, having only just made it to the start line after recovering from injury.
Things started to look ominous too, as Van der Poel started to make his move in the Trouée d’Arenberg, going past Van Aert and then animating the race to the line, pulling it back together and then pushing it apart at will, all of which eventually took its toll.
With Colbrelli on his wheel, thoughts turned to April's Tour of Flanders when Van der Poel was outsprinted by Kasper Asgreen after an attritional day out. This time, Colbrelli was definitely a far superior sprinter to the Deceuninck - Quick-Step Dane.
Nevertheless, Van der Poel persisted, working with his collaborators to take it to the velodrome. After all, you never know how your rivals legs are after a race such as the one we had today.
In the velodrome, Vermeersch got the jump on him and his legs still looked fresh, Colbrelli having to battle hard to come around the Lotto-Soudal man, Van der Poel resigned to take third.
"I'm happy with the result, rode well and how I wanted to ride," the Dutchman told Sporza. "The last 30km I already felt quite bad. I went down with a fight. It will be a race I'll never forget."
Us too, Mathieu, us too.
Florian Vermeersch the surprise name completing set of podium debutants
Not only is the fact there were 60 debutants on the start line slightly mind-boggling, an effect of the race's absence since 2019, what's more astounding is that three of them filled the podium at the finish.
Other stats such as the fact Tadej Pogačar hadn't raced a Grand Tour or that Remco Evenepoel hadn't recorded a professional victory the last time the peloton raced on the cobbles of northern France puts into perspective just how long it has been.
While Mathieu van der Poel and Sonny Colbrelli were two riders making their debut who wouldn't cause consternation with their presence on the podium, the sight of Lotto-Soudal's Florian Vermeersch at the business end in the closing kilometres was more surprising.
In fact the young Belgian, highly rated by veteran team-mate Philippe Gilbert, was looking fresh as the velodrome loomed ahead, trying to spring free from his two more experienced rivals, and even inside the finishling laps he was brave enough to chance his arm first, opening up a strong sprint that blew away Van der Poel, and only a rider on the current level of Sonny Colbrelli would have been able to deny him.
The 22-year-old looked gutted standing on the podium as Colbrelli lifted his cobble above his head, but the chances that Vermeersch will improve his placing by one before his career is out seems very high.
Fans hold their breath before Gianni Moscon succumbs to puncture and fall
As Gianni Moscon stole a march on the rest of the field, and looked to be making his move one that could persist until the Roubaix velodrome, the excitement of the mud and cobbles began to turn to panic.
It's fair to say the Italian isn't the most popular rider in the peloton or among cycling fans, a rap sheet of charges that show the sport in a bad light - the biggest examples being his racist abuse of Kévin Reza at the Tour de Romandie in 2017, punching Elie Gesbert at the 2018 Tour de France and throwing his bike at Jens Debusschere at last year's Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
How much talent you may have doesn't excuse this sort of behaviour, and while Moscon would have rightly been awarded the win had he crossed the line first, no-one would have been beholden to celebrate his victory.
Television pictures then cut to Moscon's back wheel - a puncture. 20 seconds lopped off his minute's advantage as he quickly changed his bike. A few kilometres later his bike slipped from under him in the mud. Still, he persisted, a grey figure baring white teeth, fighting against the course, maintaining a 13-second gap for longer than seemed possible.
Eventually he was brought back by the charging Van der Poel and Colbrelli group, and the Ineos man was soon shot straight out the back as they increased the pace. He held on for fourth place, only 44 seconds down and holding off the large Van Aert chase group behind.
Moscon's tenure at Ineos Grenadiers has been an interesting ride, to put it lightly, and next season he joins Astana, so don't expect this to be the last we hear of the 27-year-old.
A spectacle that more than lived up to its billing
Between the velodrome sprint finish, the riders caked in mud and the magnificent bike handling skills - there was chaos.
There are always reports of potential inclement conditions in the build-up to the race but the first actual rainy Roubaix in 19 years seemed the perfect remedy for how long we've had to wait for its return.
The women gave us a great race packed with action and drama yesterday - the 50km we could watch of it at least - before the men decided to do all they could to outdo their female counterparts by providing all manner of pandemonium.
Riders flipping over handlebars, uncontrollably sliding off into ditches, falling submerged into roadside shrubbery. Of course, no one wants to see riders hurt, but the peril is undoubtedly part of the spectacle, and those with supreme bike handling powers prosper.
Special consolation goes to Stefan Küng, who crashed countless times, as well as Sep Vanmarcke, who has recorded a number of good placings over the years yet always seems to be plagued by bad luck at the one race where you need everything to go perfectly to win.
The best thing of all? We only have to wait six months for another edition.
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