Alpecin-Deceuninck conquer Paris-Roubaix: ‘Mathieu is at the best level we have ever seen’

Mathieu van der Poel, Jasper Philipsen, Gianni Vermeersch and Silvan Dillier give the inside line on the Belgium team's third Monument win of 2024

Clock20:04, Sunday 7th April 2024
Mathieu van der Poel soaks in the glory at Paris-Roubaix

© Getty Images

Mathieu van der Poel soaks in the glory at Paris-Roubaix

Not since the days of Mapei has Paris-Roubaix seen a pair of team performances as dominant as those of Alpecin-Deceuninck over the last two years, with Mathieu van der Poel taking back-to-back solo victories and teammate Jasper Philipsen able to sprint to second on both occasions.

The all-conquering Mapei team of the 1990s finished with all three of their riders on the podium in 1996, 1998 and 1999. With a second 1-2 in as many years, Alpecin-Deceuninck – not long ago a second division, cyclo-cross orientated team – are on course to become the defining team of the current era.

Last year's performance was impressive enough and earned the team the eyes of the world heading into Sunday's race – especially in light of their wins at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders already this spring – but in placing three riders inside the top six, the Belgian team produced their finest ever display this time around.

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It was the best Alpecin-Deceuninck we had ever seen and according to the team's sixth-placed finisher from Sunday, Gianni Vermeersch, this was also the best version of Van der Poel the world has ever laid eyes on.

"I think Mathieu is at the best level I have ever seen," he told GCN and a small group of reporters in the centre of the Roubaix Velodrome. "He had a perfect winter, it makes a huge difference and he had the perfect preparation in Spain."

But there was a lot more to Alpecin-Deceuninck's race-winning story than just the Dutchman's defining attack.

From lighting up the race over the very first sectors to marking out the moves behind a lone Van der Poel in the finale, Alpecin-Deceunick enacted a stranglehold on Sunday's race, delivering the most emphatic performance of this year's Classics campaign.

Read more: Paris-Roubaix: Mathieu van der Poel defends title with 60km solo exhibition

A determination to split the race before the Arenberg

Speaking both on X and at his team's press conference ahead of Paris-Roubaix, Van der Poel was a vocal critic of the decision to introduce a chicane just metres before the Trouée d'Arenberg in Sunday's route. It would result in a big bunch slowing to a halt, he argued, thereby neutralising the race for half of the peloton.

Heading into Sunday's race, then, the Dutchman and his Alpecin-Deceuninck teammates were determined to splinter the size of the front group before the fearsome cobbles of the Arenberg appeared on the horizon.

"The goal was to not go with a full bunch into the chicane and to just get less stress, as well as putting the others under pressure," explained Philipsen in his post-race press conference. "In the cobbles, it is always better to ride in the front than somewhere in the back and I think we really showed the strength with the team today."

Read more: 'The most dangerous thing is the riders’ – safety top of agenda between Itzulia crash and Paris-Roubaix

With the race blown to pieces within the opening sectors, Alpecin-Deceuninck sat pretty as they approached the end of the Forest of Arenberg, with Van der Poel leading the race, Philipsen in third wheel and Vermeersch just four seconds back in seventh.

It was sheer dominance from the Belgian WorldTeam and a sign of things to come for the remainder of the race.

Marking moves and shattering morale

For as much as Van der Poel's incredible shape would come to define the 2024 Paris-Roubaix, so too would the vice-like grip that Alpecin-Deceuninck squeezed on their opponents over the final 95km. Leaving the Forest of Arenberg with three of their riders within the top seven, they would only improve their standing as the race developed.

"I think we for sure showed the strength of our team today, I think everybody was committed and on their best shape," Philipsen noted after the race. His game plan was always to mark the moves on Sunday and should the race come down to a small sprint, get the better of his opponents in the race to the line.

As it turned out, Van der Poel felt he had the legs to produce a trademark solo attack and struck out for home with 59.7km to ride.

"I thought it was a good moment there. We were with quite a small group and the cooperation was not really good in the group, and I just wanted to make the final hard from there," he said of his attack on Orchies, a three-star 1.7km sector.

"That is always my strength, to make it a hard final. I didn’t expect to be alone after this cobblestone section but I had a nice gap, and because there was also tailwind to the finish line mostly, I knew I could hold it."

For a small while, the gap to his opponents behind, including the likes of Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) hovered around the 15-second mark, but it was the performances of Philipsen and Vermeersch behind that allowed Van der Poel the room to escape.

With their teammate up the road, the pair jumped on the back wheel of any rider who attempted to surge from the chasing pack in pursuit of Van der Poel. Sensing the presence of an Alpecin-Deceuninck rider on their back wheel, each aggressor would cede defeat and stop their pursuit.

That was a pattern of the final two hours, with Philipsen and Vermeersch doggedly sticking to their task, seflessly sacrificing their own chances at a first Paris-Roubaix win. Philipsen had been keen to repay his teammate for his own sacrifice, whilst Vermeersch was delighted to have played such a pivotal role on Sunday.

"Last year was a little bit of a disappointment, I wasn’t always there in the finals and I found back the perfect shape this spring," Vermeersch told GCN and others at the finish.

"I feel really good with my task, I am always the guy to be there in the finals next to Jasper and Mathieu and if I can do this, I can sometimes ride above myself. This sixth spot is amazing."

With the pair shattering the morale of all those chasing behind, Van der Poel's advantage ballooned above two minutes and all that was left was for the reigning world champion was to finish off a perfect day and ride solo to the finish.

Van der Poel's best day of the Classics season

Producing the longest race-winning attack by a solo rider since Andrei Tchmil in 1994, Van der Poel credited his short block of training in Spain with relaxing him ahead of the race, and spoke of taking in the moment as victory became a foregone conclusion over the final kilometres.

"I could only dream of this when I was a kid, also with the jersey makes it even more special, of course. But I have never imagined all the races that I win now," he said.

"I really also tried to enjoy it in the last part of the race, which I couldn’t do in Flanders because I was really on my limit there. Today I felt better still in the final so I really tried to enjoy it because I know it is a special moment and it will not last forever."

Coming over the line some three minutes after Van der Poel's domineering display, Philipsen outsprinted Pedersen to finish second, with Vermeersch coming home in sixth. It was, in many ways, a perfect display from Alpecin-Deceuninck and one that left their opponents in awe at the finish.

"I just have to say ‘wow’ to Mathieu, I mean he is just on another level once again," Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) told a small group of reporters in the track centre, whilst Lidl-Trek's Tom Declercq heaped praise on Alpecin-Deceuninck's team efforts.

Read more: No excuses from Mads Pedersen and Lidl-Trek after Paris-Roubaix

"Alpecin raced very aggressively and very good, the whole team raced very strong, so I can only say ‘chapeau.’"

His counterpart in Alpecin's ranks, Silvan Dillier, had spoken of Van der Poel dancing in the team bus at the start of the day. Almost six hours and 260km later, the now-two-time champion and his squad had earned another boogie. It is now three Monument wins in a row for cycling's team of the moment.

"I guess [he will be dancing again tonight]! If he has some energy left," smiled Dillier to GCN.

For the latest news, interviews and analysis from the world of professional cycling, be sure to check out the Racing tab on the GCN website and visit our essential guide to The Spring Classics to stay up to date with all of the action from cycling's most exciting season.

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