Wout van Aert has described the "chaos" that was the 2021 Paris-Roubaix where he blames poor positioning, vision, and legs for not being able to follow Mathieu van der Poel's attack.
Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) came into the 'Hell of the North' as the top favourite according to the bookies, but the Belgian champion was unable to challenge for the win over the wet and muddy cobbles, taking seventh place in the famous Roubaix velodrome.
The 27-year-old finished over a minute down on the eventual winner and European champion Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) who took the win on his debut ride, with fellow Paris-Roubaix first-timers Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Soudal) and Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) rounding out the podium.
Speaking after the race Van Aert reflected on his performance, saying that the race descended into chaos right from the very start of the 28 cobbled sectors.
"It was a hard day," Van Aert said. "I had calculated that a big group would leave beforehand. We had a few powerful guys in front, so our situation was fine.
"It was chaos from section one, so you had to stay in front and be extra focused to avoid problems."
The rain had created a quagmire on the cobbles which caked the riders in mud, making them almost unrecognisable. Van Aert had remain well-positioned throughout much of the race, but took responsibility for being in the wrong place at the wrong time when Mathieu van der Poel attacked with around 70km to go. From there he languished in a chasing group that remained well over a minute back on the front of the race, with no concerted effort by the pursuers to try and bridge the gap.
"When Mathieu van der Poel accelerated, I was too far back," explained Van Aert.
"That was my fault. I didn’t always have the right feeling on the cobbles. When I rode behind someone, I lost a lot of energy. Besides that, my vision got worse and worse."
Van Aert opened his 2021 road racing account with a fourth place at Strade Bianche in early March and has raced throughout the year.
He showed astonishing consistency all the way, scoring major wins at Gent-Wevelgem, Amstel Gold Race, as well as a scintillating Tour de France performance where he won three stages. His final two rides of the year however did not live up to the high expectations placed on his shoulders, not managing to get close to victory at either the World Championships nor Paris-Roubaix.
"I’m not one hundred per cent satisfied, but on the other hand, I don’t think a victory was possible today," Van Aert said.
"I’m going to take a break now; it’s been a while."
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