It’s been 20 years since a wet Paris-Roubaix – 20 years of dry or dusty cobbles. Sure, sometimes they’ve been a little bit sloppy – an earthy hint of mud creeping in at the periphery – but a proper wet Paris-Roubaix is a different beast.
The 2021 edition – twice delayed by the pandemic, and occupying a new spot in the calendar at the end of the season when the continent is on the cusp of its winter hibernation – will be remembered as one of those vintage editions.
Heavy rain from the outset. Mud-slicked cobbles. Puddles that verged on being ponds. It’s always the Hell of the North – it’s the race’s whole schtick – but the conditions this year made it extra hellish.
All eyes were on a couple of familiar faces for the win – perpetual cyclocross rivals turned-road superstars Mathieu van der Poel and Wout Van Aert. In the end, neither of them took home the big cobble.
It’s often that way at Paris-Roubaix, where fortune plays as big a role as form. An Italian won, for the first time since Andrea Tafi in 1999. Another Italian lost. Plenty of people were happy about both of those things.
The results were almost secondary to the spectacle, though: the toughest male road cyclists on the planet speeding along the worst roads, in the most miserable conditions, in pursuit of cycling’s most prestigious, peculiar prize.
I think it’s time we look at some pictures, don’t you?