Riders and fans will remember it for a long time. This Sunday, the 118th edition of Paris-Roubaix proved to be quite a memorable show, in particular due to the horrific weather conditions the riders had to face throughout the day. The bravest – and luckiest – of them indeed reached the Roubaix velodrome covered in mud after a gruelling 257 kilometers. For his first edition with the pros, Clément Davy made himself noticed before crossing the line in 35th position, just behind his teammate Arnaud Démare.
“Stefan was very unlucky”, Frédéric Guesdon
Nine hundred three days. That’s how long was the endless wait for the Queen of the Classics’ lovers. After two and a half years, the Hell of the North finally returned this Sunday October 3, and its nickname was more suitable than ever. For the past few days, followers, riders and teams carefully checked the weather forecast for this 2021 Paris-Roubaix, and it became clear that the rain would be part of the game. However, it did not wait for the riders and poured abundantly overnight, leaving unusual scenes on the route of a race that had not known such circumstances for almost two decades. The rain was still pouring down when the start was given, but it did not cool down the spirits, especially as many were planning to take a step ahead today. Several big names already tried to go on the attack early on, but the first real gap opened after about forty kilometers and Stefan Küng managed to enter in a 31-man move. The situation seemed ideal, the gap quickly exceeded a minute, but the Swiss man was later forced to let the first group go. “Unfortunately for us, he suffered a crash going through Saint-Quentin,” said Frédéric Guesdon. “He was caught by the peloton, but that didn’t mean his race was over at that point”.
The time trial specialist got in the mix again approaching the first cobbles sector at Troisvilles, but he went to the ground again, together with Jake Stewart who was leading him in the front positions. “I waited for him, we were in the convoy in the first sector, and we managed to get back group after group,” said Clément Davy. “Eventually, I ended up in the right split with Arnaud but unfortunately we lost Stefan who suffered another crash, on the cobbles”. “He was very unlucky”, said Frédéric. “Crashing three times is a real blow to your morale, and you certainly pay for it at that level. It’s disappointing because he had good legs and I think he could have done something good.” From then on, Groupama-FDJ could only count on Clément Davy and Arnaud Démare, featuring in a bunch already reduced to about forty riders at the halfway point, while about twenty competitors still enjoyed their step ahead. Among the favourites, the fight really started in the Haveluy sector, preceding the iconic and terrific Trouée d’Arenberg. Mathieu van der Poel blew the bunch apart, and the latter never got back together again. Clément Davy first made it back to the main chasing group, about 80 kilometers from the finish, and Arnaud Démare did the same a few moments later. The two men tried to hold on as much as they could through the slippery and muddy cobbles sectors, but were forced to let the stronger ones go nearly fifty kilometers from the finish.
“I found the race that makes me pedalling every day”, Clément Davy
Then alone in the lead, Gianni Moscon was set to go for the victory in the velodrome, but a puncture and a crash ruined his hopes. Mathieu van der Poel, Sonny Colbrelli and Florian Vermeersch therefore caught the Italian in the last 20 kilometers, and the very same trio contested the victory in a sprint at the finish. Sonny Colbrelli took it all, while Arnaud Démare and Clément Davy later finished together in 34th and 35th respectively. “It was a super hard day,” testified the former French champion. “For me, it still went pretty well since I didn’t have a puncture and I didn’t crash. On the other hand, it was a real challenge to stay on the bike, which was going all over the place. With 50 kilometers to go, we were already all exhausted and then it came down to the legs. The day’s condition made the race even harder than usual”. As for his young teammate, he really enjoyed his first arrival on the velodrome with the “big boys”, after a superb race. “I think the distance got the better of me today,” he said. “But I gave it my all and tried not to give up. It was awesome. I enjoyed every kilometre, even at the end. In the last sector, I was cooked but I knew I was going to have to wait a year to see these cobblestones again, so I enjoyed it. It was also a historical edition. I would have been disappointed not to finish it. I am delighted to cross the line. I found the race that makes me pedal every day. I told my team I liked the North’s cobblestones. I proved in Denain that I could be here, and I think I can do something in Paris-Roubaix. Growing up, I dreamed of being here on the bike with the best. It was great, and I hope I’ll be able to experience it again. I can’t wait to come back.”
After the race, Frédéric Guesdon gave his mixed feelings of a legendary Paris-Roubaix. “We expected it to be epic,” he said. “We expected a great day, and we got it. That being said, it’s always disappointing for a team like ours not to get a big result at Paris-Roubaix. It’s an important event for us, and we can’t say we’re 100% satisfied tonight. As for Clément, he had been talking to us about it for a long time. He surprised us in Denain and turned out to be one of our best riders today. He surprised me a little, I must say. He was the first one from the team to puncture, he also came to get some bidons, and still finds himself in a good position. He just struggled to get past the 200 kilometre-mark, but that also makes sense in his first year in the WorldTour. He now needs to keep going. You need to work a lot to play with the main guys in Roubaix. But we will remember that: he has the potential to go even further”.