Six months is a long time in bike racing. Last October, Van Baarle rode around the Roubaix velodrome as it was emptying out, coming in 29:44 behind that day's winner Sonny Colbrelli.
On Sunday, the Dutchman stood atop the podium after triumphing in a brutal edition of Paris-Roubaix. After he crossed the finish line, he embraced the Ineos Grenadiers' boss, Dave Brailsford, as the British team finally won The Hell of the North on their 13th attempt, lucky for some after all.
Ineos have been in supreme form throughout this Classics period, and have won the last three one-day races they have taken part in, from the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday to Roubaix this week.
The Monument victory had been coming. Van Baarle was second at the Tour of Flanders a fortnight ago, a statement result, and went one better in the velodrome.
"I’ve never experienced being the first guy on the velodrome," he said in his post-victory press conference. "I know what it’s like to be the last guy, last year I was outside the time limit, but this year I had goosebumps.
"Also when I saw Dave at the finish line he was cheering full gas, it almost looked like he was alone. I can’t describe in words what the feeling was. I tried to enjoy it."
He could enjoy it for a few kilometres ahead of the finish, however, as once he attacked on the four-star sector of Camphin-en-Pévèle, there was no bringing him back.
"I’m still buzzing," Van Baarle said. "When I came into the velodrome it was amazing. I just checked to make sure I was alone, they didn’t flick me. That moment was super special, especially when the DS car with Servais [Knaven] and Roger Hammond came next to me. That was super special and I really started to believe it."
"With the communication, you know the gap a little bit but you don't get so much information. You don't want to celebrate early."
This was never an issue though, as Van Baarle crossed the finish line 1:47 ahead of the chasing riders, meaning he could fully enjoy the moment of the velodrome without worrying about a sprint, or being caught.
His rivals should have known how much trouble they were in when they let Van Baarle go; last year at Dwaars door Vlaanderen he attacked from 58km and soloed to the line. This time, his attack came with about about 20km to go, but was incredibly powerful, and once he had a gap, he made it stick.
"You have to see what happens after Arenberg, who’s still in the group..." he explained "You have to focus on your own race and be in the right position at the right time, that’s what I did. Then the strongest guys are in one group and then you need to find the moment.
"When we were in that group with all the favourites they started attacking," he continued. "Ben Turner said he was completely empty, so I told him to take a gel, and follow the moves. So yeah, that’s what he did. He set me up for an attack, and it was quite painful to come back to [Yves] Lampaert and [Matej] Mohorič, but then I could recover a little bit and feel that I was the strongest. Just go before Carrefour and hope for the best."
The Dutchman clearly has a lot of confidence, something he credits to his performance at the World Championships last year, when he finished second in the road race.
Asked where that came from, he joked: "Maybe I need to write a book."
"Of course I always had trust in myself," he explained. "But then you’re in the final of the Worlds, and then I had the click. You can build on that the whole winter, that you can have confidence in yourself to race for the win. Flanders was confirmation that I was on the right path."
Despite his triumph over the pavé, Van Baarle admitted that he does not like riding on the cobbles, something that might surprise those who have seen him ride so well over them.
"I think I said once in an interview that I really hate to ride on the cobbles actually," he said. "I just go quicker over it than others, which makes it basically fun. It’s not fun to ride over it, but it is fun to hurt the other guys."
In six months, Van Baarle has learned how to hurt his rivals, and this victory is a statement for him just as much as his impressive team. The Dutchman now has a cobblestone trophy, just like many of the greats of the sport.
"Maybe i need to find a strong enough table to hold it," he joked. He might need a stronger table if he keeps riding like this and winning.
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