Elizabeth Deignan added to her already extensive palmarès on Saturday with an incredible solo victory at the first edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, riding every cobbled sector of the race alone after attacking off the front 82 kilometres from the line.
After the race, which saw the Trek-Segafredo veteran ride the one and a half laps of the Roubaix velodrome in the rain, 1:17 up on second-placed Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), Deignan said that her almost two-hour-long solo wasn't in the plan at the start of the day.
"So actually, at the start of the day our two leaders were Ellen van Dijk and Elisa Longo Borghini and I was supposed to be one of the last helpers, but clearly the first cobbled sector was really important to be there in the front," Deignan said in the post-race press conference.
"I could tell that Elisa and Ellen were struggling with position and I was in the front, so I thought 'well for insurance I need to be at the front of the peloton'. I took some speed because I really had to sprint to be there, and I took that onto the cobbles.
"Then I looked behind me and saw that I had a gap and I thought 'well, as long as I'm in front they have to chase behind'. I kind of rode at about 75 per cent until I had a minute, and I had a call in the radio that I had to give 100 per cent so that's what I did.
"It definitely wasn't the plan going into it and I certainly wasn't thinking about winning when I went onto those cobbles, no. It was a good tactic but not one that I particularly enjoyed. I think that if Van Dijk had been in my position, she'd have won the race by a few more minutes than I did."
Deignan added that once she had moved away from the main peloton, the tactics changed, as with teammates behind, her team could instead think about isolating other rivals in the chase group as more and more riders dropped away – either through fatigue or crashes during a brutal day on the bike.
"It was completely surreal actually," she said of reaching the velodrome for the first time. "This morning I was here as a teammate, and I never considered or dreamt of winning the race myself actually, so to find myself in a position where I was solo after such a big effort was an incredible experience. I think with experience you learn that these moments don't happen that often in your career and I really cherished that last lap."
Deignan, who race 34psi tyres and without gloves – and had the bleeding blisters on her hands to prove it afterwards – was alone after jumping away at the start of the Hornaing à Wandignies sector after 34 kilometres of racing all the way to the finish.
Vos was the major counter-attacker of the day, making her move on Camphin-en-Pévèle 62 kilometres later. The Dutchwoman did cut Deignan's two-minute advantage in half at one point, but with just four cobbled sectors left to go, her efforts weren't enough to make it across.
"I knew she had fresher legs than I did, and Marianne is an incredible athlete, so I knew she'd be chasing me down and taking time out of me," Deignan said. "My objective was just to get over the cobbles with as much time as I could because I knew that that's where I'd be losing time because my legs were so tired. I knew that on the tarmac it would kind of be even, so my objective was just to get through those cobbled sectors ahead of her.
"There was a moment when I slid to the left and then the right and I thought 'woahoah'. But it was – I knew that it would be worse in a group, and I knew that I had an advantage to be alone and pick my lines. It was incredibly muddy in some sections, and you know I'm not a cyclo-crosser, so I took a couple of tips from my teammate Lucinda Brand. She said, 'whatever you do, just keep pedalling'. So that's all I could think – just keep pedalling."
Deignan also confirmed that her team had committed to matching prize money between men's and women's races this season and would do so once again at Paris-Roubaix. For winning the inaugural edition of the women's race here, Deignan would pick up a mere €1,535. That will now be elevated to the €30,000 the men's winner will take home thanks to Trek-Segafredo and their sponsors.
"The first step is that we have a Paris-Roubaix," Deignan said of the progress that has been made in women's cycling. "That's a huge first step forward and I'm very grateful that I get to be a part of history. We are part of history now and there's no going back.
"Obviously the prize money is disappointing but it's a nice moment to point out what my team Trek-Segafredo is doing – they've been equalling the prize money to the male equivalent of races that we've been doing – not just this race but the whole season. It takes initiatives like that and support from sponsors and brands to push the boundaries and we need to keep pushing. We're not being silent about it anymore and I think that's important."
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Daniel Ostanek has been a staff writer at Cyclingnews since August 2019, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later part-time production editor. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content on Cyclingnews and takes on live race text coverage throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Tro-Bro Léon, Strade Bianche, and the Vuelta a España.
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