The first ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes is about to happen and there are lots of riders dreaming about racing the famed cobbles and being first across the finish line in the revered Roubaix velodrome.
It is a history-making moment, so there’s every incentive to lay it all out on the line to become the first winner of the Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
It is difficult to name the likely winner, as we are yet to see how the riders in the women’s peloton fare on the Roubaix pavé under race conditions. Add the chance of wet conditions into the mix, potentially bringing slick cobbles and mud, and the unpredictability rises another notch.
This makes delivering a shortlist of riders to watch a hard task, particularly as the significance of the first running and proximity to a Flanders World Championships means the field is stacked with riders in peak condition.
We have painstakingly narrowed it down, so read on for Cyclingnews’ 10 riders to watch at the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo)
It may be a while since Ellen van Dijk soloed over the line to take out the win at Flanders in 2014, but that’s a scenario that doesn’t seem out of the question for the first women’s Paris-Roubaix.
Always a solid performer, the power of the Dutch rider should stand her in good stead on the brutal cobbles, while her time-trialling ability could help her hold off the chase and her unquestionable recent form makes her a serious threat of getting away.
The newly-minted time trial world champion and European road race champion also has the benefit of a powerful Trek-Segafredo team around her, who’ll no doubt have plenty of pay-back support to deliver to the rider who is a force to be reckoned with at the front of the peloton. Elisa Longo Borghini, for one, has said she doesn’t believe it is a race that suits her but she is convinced she can be a great help to her teammates.
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx)
Paris-Roubaix is a race that Chantal van den Broek-Blaak has said fits her characteristics and she’s been waiting for the moment when she can get to contest the race.
Nearing the end of her career, there is no doubt she’ll be chasing the chance hard and she is the type of powerful rider that thrives in the hard events and seems to still have something left at the end as others around her fade.
The 31-year-old has twice been out on a reconnaissance of the course in dry conditions, and while she’s handled the cobbles, a wet Paris-Roubaix may make it a harder task to keep up with those riders who have ample experience in mud and slippery conditions.
Van den Broek-Blaak will be looking to win Paris-Roubaix solo or in a very small group, but her SD Worx team also have other cards to play, such is the strength of Amy Pieters and Jolien d’Hoore, who have the track savvy as an advantage if it comes down to a group in the Roubaix velodrome.
Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)
Second clearly stung for Marianne Vos at the UCI Road World Championships but, despite the near miss with less than ideal team support, it did show she’s heading into Paris-Roubaix with strong form.
The rider with an unrivalled palmares and a sprint that’s hard to beat at the end of a selective race would be a fitting first entry into the history book as the winner of the first Paris-Roubaix Femmes and the possibility of wet weather seems to make it an even more likely scenario.
It means Vos’ stunning bike handling skills and ability to read the peloton become even more valuable, both in helping the seven-time cyclo-cross world champion avoid the inevitable crashes and allowing her to pick her way through the challenging sectors ably and efficiently so she can conserve that energy for when it really counts.
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo)
The former world champion and winner of Tour of Flanders is another strong option for Trek-Segafredo, one who can also deliver a handy turn of speed when it comes down to a select group.
Deignan told Cyclingnews she had trained hard and rested well in preparation for Worlds and Paris-Roubaix, with the two forming a complementary block of racing.
The Briton is also bound to be inspired by the excitement of taking part in the race and motivated to help deliver an audience captivating debut, with the men’s edition a long-held personal favourite in her viewing schedule.
Lotte Kopecky (Liv-Racing)
The Belgian is impossible to pass by. She’s a strong rider, with excellent form that likes to ride the cobbles.
The 25-year-old too has had spent plenty of time out previewing the course, even telling Cyclingnews she’d managed to get out in the rain during one of her five or six times on the route.
Some of her big targets this year haven’t turned out as she hoped – with a fourth as her best result at the Olympic Games where she raced on the road and track plus a 16th in the road race at her home World Championships – but with a win tally that adds up to eight already this season it's hard to call the season anything but a success.
Kopecky vent into the Olympics and Worlds with high expectations, but is taking a different attitude into Paris-Roubaix of enjoying the moment and “then I’ll wait and see where it takes me”.
Given it’s a race where being prepared to take a big chance can deliver the win, it’s an attitude that may well pay off.
Emma Norsgaard (Movistar)
It’s hard not to be nervous about not putting Annemiek van Vleuten on a list of riders to watch at just about any race, with good reason, but given how hard it was to narrow down the list we’ve decided to take the Dutch rider at her word that this isn’t a race that suits her and she’ll be riding in support of her teammates, with Emma Norsgaard a “big contender”.
The 22-year-old Danish rider already has six wins to her name and plenty more podium places this season, including second at Le Samyn des Dames and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Her versatility as a rider makes her a strong contender in a variety of scenarios, as she’s not only a powerful sprinter that is suited to the Classics and punchy terrain but can also deliver a solid time trial, which delivers some confidence about her ability to come to the line either alone or in a group.
Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling)
The 33-year-old German champion has been riding powerfully this season, having walked away with top tens in the World Championships and the Olympic Games, a second place at the Tour of Flanders behind Annemiek van Vleuten and third step on the podium at the European Championships.
She also won the road race and time trial titles at the German National Championships and scooped up a gold medal in the team pursuit on the track at the Olympic Games.
With that record, no doubt she won't be too worried if she comes toward the line in a select group and has to try and deliver the win on the Roubaix velodrome.
Marta Bastianelli (Alè BTC Ljubljana)
The 34-year-old Italian looks well suited to the course, delivering a good option for Alè BTC Ljubljana, along with Marlen Reusser.
Bastianelli may not have delivered a big individual result at the World Championships but she was part of the winning team, playing a vital role in the lead out for Elisa Balsamo.
She may not have had the best of early seasons but came back to winning form at the Tour de Suisse. In the last six weeks she’s had quite a few trips to the podium, including two victories.
A previous winner of Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Drenthe and the Tour of Flanders, Bastianelli has experience and grit to work in her favour.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
It was another trip to the podium for Kasia Niewiadoma at the Road World Championships and it could be argued that she was potentially the strongest rider in that front group, attacking the field again and again yet still having enough left to sprint for third place.
She is clearly well prepared in terms of form, has solid Canyon-SRAM teammates around her, although the absence of Lisa Klein due to shoulder surgery is a loss.
The Polish rider has continually been chipping away near the top end of the results over the past two seasons but is yet to take a win. It may not be the ideal course for her but if the race plays out as she expects that aggressive attitude she displayed at Worlds could work to her favour.
“Paris-Roubaix will be won on Saturday from someone who was not afraid to risk and give it all when mattered,” she predicted.
Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service)
It just wouldn't have seemed right not to have the new world champion on this list. It was a tough course in Flanders and Elisa Balsalmo showed she was well and truly up to the challenge.
Paris-Roubaix Femmes will be her first race wearing the rainbow-striped jersey of the world champion and being at such a huge event it will make it a moment not to forget.
While she’s got nothing left to prove after her victory in Leuven, she’s also got nothing to lose. Plus we know the 23-year-old is carrying good form – she also came second at the Grand Prix d'Isbergues the week before Worlds – and she’s got a record of strong results in the tough one day races.
Unfortunately for her, though, she’ll be without the stellar Italian lead-out of Elisa Longo Borghini, who’ll instead be delivering her valuable support to Trek-Segafredo teammates van Dijk and Deignan.
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