SD Worx will have two potentially winning cards to play with Lotte Kopecky and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak at Saturday's Paris-Roubaix Femmes. Kopecky has already secured top-tier victories at Strade Bianche and Tour of Flanders and said that winning the second edition of the Hell of the North would be a bonus.
"Relaxed," Kopecky said when asked how she felt ahead of Paris-Roubaix. "If I get in a situation to win the race, I will certainly not miss the opportunity. One day I want to add Paris-Roubaix to my palmarès, but that doesn't have to be this year. With my wins in the Tour of Flanders and the Strade Bianche, the pressure is off. Of course, I still have goals this year, but everything that comes with it is extra. That's a very nice feeling."
Kopecky has been marked as one of the favourites to win the coveted cobblestone trophy, as has Van den Broek-Blaak, but the pair face a formidable challenge from other favourites Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), Elisa Longo Borghini and World Champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ), Marta Cavalli (FDL Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM).
Notably absent from the start line in Denain are defending champion Lizzie Deignan, who is currently on maternity leave from the sport, and last year's runner-up, Marianne Vos, who tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of the race.
Asked if it bothered her that she was the favourite, Kopecky said, "No. In the run-up to the Tour of Flanders, it was much more so. I hardly feel any pressure for Paris-Roubaix. I have a different view on it. Before, I was sometimes too tense in the run-up to a race and lost too much energy. This year was the first time I was so relaxed before the Tour of Flanders. With success."
The route will not include the famed Trouée d'Arenberg of the men's race route, but the women will race a slightly longer 124km, versus 115km in 2021, including an additional opening lap in the start city of Denain. As for the pavé, the women's peloton will tackle 17 sectors for 29.2km of cobbles. Two are rated five-star difficulty: Mons-en-Pévèle with 49km to go, and the Carrefour de l'Arbre with 17km to go en route to the velodrome in Roubaix.
Unlike last October's wet and muddy conditions, the peloton will race in dry and sunny 18°Celsius. Kopecky, however, cautioned that the wind could play a factor in the race's outcome.
"It will be a very tough race," Kopecky predicted. "I have already looked at the wind, and it looks like it will be against us. It will be very nervous towards the first cobblestone and then the finish. I think many teams will try to have strong riders in the early breakaway. Last year we saw with Lizzie Deignan that it was possible, although we had slanted tailwinds then."
Indeed, Deignan was crowned the champion of the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes last autumn after an 82km solo breakaway. She attacked ahead of the first cobblestone sector, Hornaing à Wandignies.
Asked what the Paris-Roubaix victory would mean to her and SD Worx, Kopecky said, "It is a race where the pace never drops. There is a constant battle to get the best position towards the pavé. If you get side winds on the cobbled sections, it becomes absolutely terrible. Then you can't hide. This race is for riders who keep going and are mentally strong.
"In Paris-Roubaix you can never give up. Even if you have a puncture or you fall, you never know what bad luck they will have at the front. You need a lot of luck to win this race. But although it is an unpredictable race, there will never be an unfamous winner. When will I be happy at the Vélodrome on Saturday? When someone from Team SD Worx is showing off the cobble trophy."
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Kirsten Frattini is the Deputy Editor of Cyclingnews, overseeing the global racing content plan.
Kirsten has a background in Kinesiology and Health Science. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's biggest races, reporting on the WorldTour, Spring Classics, Tours de France, World Championships and Olympic Games.
She began her sports journalism career with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. In 2018, Kirsten became Women's Editor – overseeing the content strategy, race coverage and growth of women's professional cycling – before becoming Deputy Editor in 2023.