The 2023 cobbled Classics began in much the same way as the 2022 spring campaign ended: with Dylan van Baarle soloing to victory. Just as he did at Paris-Roubaix last April, the Dutchman attacked early to gain a head-start over the other favourites, and wound up reaching the finishing straight alone with time to celebrate.
Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) won the sprint in the reduced peloton some 20 seconds behind to place second, having impressed throughout the race, while Christophe Laporte put the cherry on top of what was a superb race for Jumbo-Visma by rounding off the podium in third.
Is Van Baarle currently the best Classics rider in the peloton?
He might not boast the star status of Wout van Aert or Mathieu van der Poel, but should we be talking about Dylan van Baarle as the best cobbled Classics rider in the world?
His results since autumn 2021 speak for themselves. After catching Tadej Pogačar in the closing stages of the 2022 Tour of Flanders to take second place, he proved categorically that that result was no fluke by winning Paris-Roubaix the week after with an astonishing display of strength, and by the huge margin of one minute and 47 seconds. Both Van Aert and Van der Poel lay well adrift, the former despite chasing hard, and the latter looking well out of sorts.
Add to that his silver medal at the 2021 World Championships, and no rider besides Pogačar has a better record in the very biggest one-day races over the last eighteen months as Van Baarle.
He wins in style, too, and his victory today came from what has become his trademark of long-range, stealthy, solo attacks. At first he was part of a four-man group featuring Florian Vermeersch (Lotto-Dstny), Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa Samsic) and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious) that went clear about 40km from the finish, but he shed each rider one-by-one, before he was all alone. From then he kept motoring along, and not even the powerful attacks made on the Muur by the other pre-race favourites were enough to bring him back into sight.
Granted, neither Van Aert nor Van der Poel were racing today, so his fate may have been very different were they not missing. But if he continues riding like this, then he’ll have surely earned a co-leadership status alongside Van Aert at Jumbo-Visma, rather than a supplementary role.
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