You don’t have to look far for some vivid (and maybe occasionally hyperbolic) descriptions of what it’s like to ride Paris-Roubaix. It’s a race that takes away as quickly as it gives a slice of luck, and is surrounded in an aura and steeped in such legend that for many riders it’s simply a career highlight to compete in and finish the Queen of the Classics.
In 2023, both the women’s and the men’s races were, as usual, gruelling attritional affairs, full of mechanicals, crashes, and some incredible saves, as riders battled to the velodrome for a place in cycling history.
For the second consecutive year, the men’s race recorded its fastest ever average speed: an astonishing 46.841km/h by the winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). The Dutchman, like most of his closest rivals in the race, have either not shared their ride or hidden some of the most telling data on Strava. If last year’s winner Dylan van Baarle is anything to go by though, Van der Poel’s stats would have produced some eye-watering numbers; Van Baarle completed almost six hours in 2022 with 341w Normalised Power (an adjusted average of power output to reflect changing conditions during the activity).
But there’s still a lot to glean from those a little bit further down the final rankings who aren’t so shy about showing off their numbers from the 256.6km race.
One of those riders threw back the years like no other. John Degenkolb (Team DSM), winner in 2015 and self-proclaimed lover of all things Roubaix, put himself in the final group of favourites and delivered his best result (seventh) since 2017, despite succumbing to a heartbreaking crash on the Carrefour de l’Arbre less than 18km from the finish. That crash meant the German was forced to make a bike change, dashing his hopes of a podium and subsequently cutting off his data from that point onwards.
Degenkolb had his best ride in recent years at Roubaix (Zac Williams/SWPix)
Nevertheless, Degenkolb’s data from that ride is impressive. He averaged 311w for the duration for the race (334w NP) and 4w/kg for five hours of the Classic, demonstrating this was a monumental effort as he stayed in the group containing Van der Poel and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) at the front of the race.
In fact, Degenkolb was the first rider to jump on the attack of Van Aert and Jumbo-Visma on cobble sector 20, Haveluy à Wallers, with just over 102km to go. Benefitting from being immediately in the wheels of the Dutch team, Degenkolb’s biggest efforts came just before the sector when he hit 1,271w and after the turn on the exit of the sector, when he hit his maximum power for the entire day, 1,289w. Following that attack on sector 20 still represented a huge effort however. Degenkolb was well within his threshold heart rate (average 167bpm) and held 437w for over 3:30 minutes.
While Van Aert and his team-mates were responsible for the move that split the race favourites away from the remainder of the bunch, eventual winner Van der Poel was the instigator of many of the race’s most stinging accelerations. One of his biggest attacks came on one of the course’s only significant rises with 45km to go, just after the five-star sector Mons-en-Pévèle. Perhaps trying to take advantage of his rivals’ fatigue after completing the sector, Van der Poel launched with Van Aert immediately on his wheel and forced those behind, including Degenkolb, into a huge effort. The DSM man had to push a circa 25-second effort of 791w and a maximum of 1,167w to stay in touch with the two race favourites, before the race lulled for a brief period.
Sadly, we’ll never get to see just what Degenkolb would have produced had he managed to reach the velodrome alongside Van der Poel or any of the others in the group, and just before his crash he was still putting in some impressive numbers along the Carrefour de l’Arbre. Before crashing in the incident with Van der Poel and his team-mate Jasper Philipsen, Degenkolb was riding at over 40kph when he fell, having averaged 38.4kph for the 800m he’d completed of the final five-star sector, averaging 469w with a maximum output of 879w.
Of course Roubaix is a race where each rider ends the day with their own tale to tell, and many of those behind the front group would have been putting in their maximum in hopes of securing a result. One of those riders, Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Dstny), found himself in the chasing group behind with two of Van Aert’s team-mates, Christophe Laporte and Nathan van Hooydonck, after safely navigating the fierce Trouee d’Arenberg.
The Belgian has helpfully uploaded his Strava ride with power data, revealing the efforts he put in with over 90km remaining to try and hunt down the leaders. Averaging 43.5kph for that period (slower than Van Aert’s 44.6kph), Vermeersch rode at 337w average power (his NP for the whole day was 328w) to eventually finish 12th. Alongside his namesake Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Fenix), it’s the best impression we can get of a final sprint on the velodrome this year.
Gianni Vermeersch just missed out on a top-10 finish after his efforts for leader Van der Poel (Zac Williams/SWPix)
The latter pulled out a 10-second effort of 809w as he lost out to Laporte in a sprint for the final top-10 spot in the race, averaging 52.2kph and a maximum 56.8kph around the final curve of the Roubaix velodrome. Florian Vermeersch pushed out a bigger effort on the final turn to the line of 869w and a maximum of 1,165w, but had to settle for 12th place.
Away from the power data, the Strava files give us an indication of just how much energy it takes to compete in a race like Roubaix. Most riders burnt between 5,000 and 6,000 calories across the course of the day, emphasising again how important staying fuelled is if you want to remain in contention.
What’s clear is this year’s Roubaix was harder than ever, the numbers here exemplifying what a incredible feat of strength it takes to even finish inside the time limit at the Monument.
Cover image by Alex Whitehead/SWPix