Monday 4 October 2021

Paris-Roubaix Femmes: Pre-thoughts and after-thoughts from the riders

It was great to see this big moment in history over the weekend, when women raced the Paris-Roubaix for the first time ever. I remember asking Christian Prudhomme, of Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) in 2018, when he thought there would be a Paris-Roubaix for women. He said, at the time that they were focused on a junior race for the male riders, and that they would put on a women's race but there were time constraints and it would be something to look for in the future. Naturally, campaigners for women's cycling were not impressed with this reply.

So it was great news to hear, last year, that a woman's race would be taking place. Finally it came to pass, over the weekend, and it didn't disappoint. Although the route was less than half the distance of the men's race, being 116.4km and without the infamous Forest of Arenberg cobbles, the race was anything but easy. With the women hitting the cobbles after just 30km and going into Mons-en-Pévèle as well as Carrefour de L'Arbre, the racers will have their work cut out for them. Many women were quite clear that they would be in for a tough ride - and it certainly was.

Photo: Trek-Segafredo

There was no bunch finish for first place, as Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) won from an 85km breakaway, with Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) who made a spirited attempt to chase down the British rider, entering the famous Roubaix Velodrome more than a minute behind to finish in second place. Deignan's team-mate Elisa Longo-Borghini not far behind in third place. There was a bunch sprint of around 10 riders for the minor placings and thereafter women finished in ones and twos.  

Of 129 starters, just 61 finished, with riders either missing the time cut or dropping out following a crash, notably Annemiek Van Vleuten (Team Movistar) who crashed and broke her pelvis.

Interestingly, the race was topped and tailed by British riders, with the first placed rider being Lizzie Deignan, and the last classified finisher, in 61st place being Abby-Mae Parkinson (Lotto Soudal Ladies). 

I interviewed a number of different women before the race. It is interesting to hear a few of their reactions after their first experience of the Hell of the North:

Alice Barnes, Canyon-SRAM Racing [26th]


"I would say it’s [Paris-Roubaix is] one of the races on the calendar that suits me the most, with it being flat, but with the cobbled aspect which will make it a tough race. So I am glad that in my lifetime I will be able to race it. Hopefully I will have some good luck and good legs and get a good result. I heard a lot of people say that there’s nothing like Roubaix cobbles. I would say in Holland or Belgium I have ridden cobbles a bit like it but I think it’s the back to back cobbles and the relentlessness that makes it a much different race from any race on the calendar. Hopefully with it being the women’s first edition we can put on a good race, and it’ll be exciting and I’ll be there in the thick of the action with the rest of my team.

"I am really excited. I do like the cobbles – I don’t know if I will be saying that at the end of Saturday, but it’s just an exciting race and I’ve watched it for years and years when there’s been the men’s racing. I’ve been inspired from that, but hopefully having a women’s edition will inspire more women to want to race the event as well."

Photo: Tino Pohlmann


"To be honest, overall I am disappointed. I just didn't have the legs. I tried to block this out and just kept pushing which seemed the common advice anyway. I found myself in a group that was working fairly well together, and when I got to the velodrome, I just had to ride for the best place I could.

"I wish I could have soaked in the atmosphere at the finish, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed with how my day went. As a team, we had bad luck with losing Kasia [Niewiadoma] early and the puncture of Elise [Chabbey]  as she was really well positioned when she got this and felt she had good legs."

Asked if she would like to return to next year's edition, to be held in April, Barnes was quick to reply. "Yes, 100%. I know this can be a good race for me. I can see myself and Paris-Roubaix having a love-hate relationship for the rest of my career."

Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, SD Worx [10th]


"The cobbles are bad. They are flat, but there are holes everywhere and you need to have speed to ride over it, and that’s the problem because if you are tired you won’t have the speed anymore. And also the rests [on the tarmacked roads] in between cobbled section are so short – sometimes only 2km or 3km before going into the next section, so that makes it hard. 

"I didn’t really dream about this race when I was younger, as you don’t really know what kind of rider you are. But in the last years I have seen that I am a pure classic, one day racer. I am normally good in the Spring. I have won Flanders and Strade Bianche and those kind of races. So then you know you are able to do it; so of course when I saw this race on the calendar I was directly super-happy. That was my first reaction. My second reaction was I probably can do it, but I didn’t really know, so that made me nervous. I think I prepared well, and in the end we will see how it goes. Maybe I’m not made for it, I don’t know!" 

Photo: Tornanti

"It was super tough, but what a cool race this is. I think everyone is completely empty. It was a really chaotic race, but we were sitting pretty comfortably in. I did not expect [Lizzie] Deignan's attack on the first cobblestone section, however. Super clever of her that she could stay ahead until the end with so much wind and such a tough course. Hats off."

Jolien d'Hoore, SD Worx [Finished outside time limit]


"Paris-Roubaix is just beautiful. I love it. It’s a hard race. We never experienced anything like this before so it’s going to be new for everybody and I’m really looking forward to it.

"I live on the course of Tour of Flanders and so we have cobbles, but you can’t compare them with these ones in Paris-Roubaix. The cobbles in Paris-Roubaix are more like a bunch of rocks thrown together, whereas the cobbles in Flanders are still pretty smooth.

"I am more a fan of a dry race, where it’s safe for everybody. When it’s raining it’s just going to be a matter of surviving and not crashing. And that has nothing to do with cycling anymore; I just want the best rider to win on Saturday and not the ride who has the most luck.

"Paris-Roubaix is the race I remember the most when I was a little girl. I was watching it on the television from the start until the finish. I can still remember riders like Johan Museeuw and especially Tom Boonen. I can remember 2012 when Boonen did a long solo, so it’s crazy that I am now riding on the same cobbled sections as he did. That just gives me goosebumps."

Photo: Cor Vos


"It was literally hell. We explored the course in dry weather, now the cobblestones were super slippery due to the rainfall. One brake and you crashed. That's Roubaix.
Mentally it was difficult to continue the race after my second crash, but there was never a moment to give up. In my last race [of her career before retiring] I didn't want to get in the broom wagon. I had only one goal left: ignore the pain, get to the finish, and enjoy the last kilometres."

Lizzie Deignan, Trek-Segafredo, [Winner]


"Paris-Roubaix Femmes is something that should have happened long ago, but it is a big step forward in women’s cycling, and it’s great to see the respect women are gaining in cycle racing. 

"I think the course is fine as it is. When designing the course we have to think about the race and the various teams and riders involved. The most important thing is to have a women’s Paris-Roubaix. Which cobbles should or shouldn’t be included can be looked at in the future."


"I feel very emotional. I am just really proud....I cannot believe it happened.... At the start of the day we said, 'you know the rulebook: anything can happen'. It was a case of just fighting to be at the front in those first cobble sections, and I knew that Ellen [van Dijk], one of our [team] leaders, was not in such a good position. And I thought, 'well if at least I am there [at the front] I can cover something'. And when I looked behind, no one was there, and I thought 'well at least they will have to chase me down, so I carried on.' I was riding with the assurance that my team-mates Ellen, Elisa [Longo-Borghini] and Audrey [Cordon-Ragot] were behind me. We had the best team in the race and that's why I won. 

"I didn't know I was going to win until I entered the velodrome! I couldn't hear anything, my legs were cramping, and I knew that even on the last section you could lose two minutes if you cramped and blew up. I really just tried to keep a regular pace. At this point in the season, I am tired and I knew the best thing for me was to keep a steady pace and stay in front for as long as I could. Paris-Roubaix has always been a men's race and I am just so proud that women's cycling is on the world stage now. I am proud that my daughter can look at the cobblestone trophy."

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