Many of the teams and riders who will be racing in the first edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes took an opportunity to preview the 17 cobblestone sectors in the days leading up to the race held on October 2 in France.
For many years women campaigned for a Queen of the Classics race to compete in, and finally, organisers ASO are staging an event, and this completes the list of Spring Classics such as the Tour of Flanders and Ardennes Week, which also include a women’s race.
It will be difficult to call which racer will be the first across the line at the Roubaix Velodrome given that this is uncharted territory. As this 116km route is much shorter than the men’s route, there may well be more aggressive racing for early on, as riders battle to string out the bunch in the first 30km before hitting the long, opening cobbled section.
Although the Trouée d’Arenberg won’t be visited, the women will race over the other most arduous sectors at Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de L’Arbre, sectors which can be the making or the undoing of the key contenders.
There will be very little margin for error and riders will be on their guard over the relentless sections which appear in rapid succession. All we know is that whoever crosses the finish line at around 5pm local time on Saturday, will make history.
Cyclingnews spoke to ten of the history-making women who will be on the start line to get their thoughts, views, and expectations ahead of the inaugural women’s Hell of the North.
Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo)
As a child, I loved watching Paris-Roubaix with my family, and was inspired by Frédéric Guesdon when he won. It was a big occasion. I am really glad that we are now making history. My only regret is that if the event hadn't been postponed I would have had the opportunity to compete in this race while wearing the National Champion's jersey.
Jolien D'hoore (SD Worx)
I live on the route of Tour of Flanders, so I am used to cobbles. But you can’t compare them with the cobbles in Paris-Roubaix, which are more like a bunch of rocks thrown together. Paris-Roubaix Femmes is going to be special, as it will be the last race of my career.
I don’t necessarily think Arenberg should have been included. I think the course is good as it is now. What we have here is a good start. If it rains, though, it’s just going to be a matter of surviving and not crashing. And that has nothing to do with cycling anymore. I want the best rider to win on Saturday and not the ride who has the most luck.
Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo)
Everyone said, “These roads will suit you” but on my first recon I cried and couldn’t finish the ride. But after four more visits I got better and now I like it. We have received coaching and advice from the director sportive of the men's teams, and all our material, including our bikes which have suspension, is on point. I see why folks see me as a favourite, but anything can happen. I will give it my all, but I don’t feel under pressure.
Anna Henderson (Team Jumbo-Visma)
I think it’s going to be a really fast 30km and a big fight coming into the first cobbled sector, and a lot of girls’ races will almost end there, especially if it’s raining and there are crosswinds. It’s going to be a really hard day and full gas from the start to the finish. Don’t expect a big group going into the velodrome. I think there’ll be a maximum of three. I think the strongest and luckiest girl will win on the day, because I think there’s going to be a lot of people having problems and a lot going on.
We are running a lot wider tyres, so some of us are running 28mm, or 30mm tyres. For tyre pressure, I’m a little bit lighter than the other racers so mine are at 4 bars. I will also double wrap my handlebars and put tape on my fingers. There are a lot of different steps you take to make sure you can survive.
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx)
The cobbles at Carrefour de L’Arbre are really hard, and there are holes everywhere. You need to have speed to ride over those cobbles, but that’s a problem at that point when your legs will be pretty tired. Also the rests in between sectors are so short – sometimes only 3km or 4km, so that makes it harder.
People have asked how I feel about this historical moment. I must say I have been just super-focused, looking at what lines to take when checking out the course, and trying to remember everything. But I am super-excited.
Alice Barnes (Canyon-SRAM Racing)
I think Paris-Roubaix Femmes will be different from the men’s race because we will do a lot less racing before we reach the cobbles, and the proportion of cobbles to tarmac in our race is a lot higher. I think there will be action from the start. It's one of the races on the calendar that suits me the most, with it being flat, though the cobbles make it tough. I do like cobbles, though I don't know if I will be saying that at the end of Saturday!
Christine Majerus (SD Worx)
For me, it’s like the most romantic form of cycling and a real fight against the elements. That’s what makes Paris-Roubaix more special than any other race.
If you have good techniques from cyclo-cross you can be more relaxed and save a bit of energy in the beginning of the race, but if you don’t have the strongest legs in the final, then all the best techniques in the world won’t help you win.
Riding into the velodrome will give me goosebumps, whether it’s for victory or just for finishing.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)
The cobbles will be hard, though we have done the recon in different conditions so we are prepared for any kind of weather, and are ready for a hard race. It’s going to be a great experience.
Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing)
I want to have fun on Saturday at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, then I’ll see where it takes me. As well as the rainy weather, it’s expected to be an extra nervous race. My job will be to stay attentive, stay on the bike and try to avoid equipment failure.
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo)
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.
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