Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), second to Lizzy Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) in the first women's Paris-Roubaix, had no regrets in finishing in second place again, one week after being runner-up at the world championships in Belgium.
Vos launched in pursuit of Deignan at the famous pavé sectors of Camphin-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l'Arbre with only 20km to go to the finish on the legendary vélodrome in Roubaix, dropping all her rivals, but could only claw back half of the 2:30 gap to Deignan, who won with a Merckx-like 80km solo breakaway.
"I think we tried what we could. Lizzie Deignan had a brave very early attack and she got a good advantage," Vos said.
"From the moment in the final when I went I knew it would be very hard to make up time on her. I got a little closer but in the end, I didn't get closer than 1:15. Of course, I kept riding for second place so today I have to be happy with that," Vos said at the post-race press conference in the STAB indoor vélodrome in Roubaix.
Much earlier, shortly after getting off the bike at the legendary Vélodrome André-Pétrieux, Vos was still beaming with joy. "It was nice. It was hard. I suffered. Positioning was key. Before the first pavé sections, it nearly felt like war - although I know you can't really call it like that. It was so slippery and then it kept a battle of positioning. Before the race, you don't know what to expect but it was so cool. You do have to remain focused all the time. You can't lose attention because then it goes wrong," Vos said.
Deignan sprinted into the first pavé sector between Hornaing and Wandignies after only 34km of racing and gapped the peloton with still more than 82km to race. Vos rode near the front when Deignan rode away.
"I think she entered one of the first sections first. The rider behind her left a gap and from there she just went alone. We were still with quite a big group behind. You know that they're a really strong team so they're going to go early. Sending someone up the road is a good tactic because then they're not forced to chase anybody down. Behind Deignan, the team still had some other very strong women," Vos said.
"It was a super-strong attack from Deignan. It was early, really early. You're thinking, maybe too early but she just kept going. The gap grew up to two minutes and you know that you have to get started at some point. I came back to about a minute of her but that's where I kept dangling. Going too early was a risk because you might blow up your engine. Deignan rode a very strong race and it's only deserved that she can collect her cobblestone here," Vos said.
Vos was one of the pre-race favourites for this first edition of Paris-Roubaix. She showed her great form at the world championships where she finished just short of the win behind Elisa Balsamo but she also has the skills to perform well on the cobbles, having a cyclo-cross background. Vos was very excited that she finally got to race on the pavé.
"We all had been looking forward to Paris-Roubaix. To be here today, you felt the excitement among all of the teams and the riders. That caused chaos in the first hour, to be up there for the first cobbles and to be in the right position. It was a big fight. We all knew it would be a big fight for the first sections and to be there and to be out of trouble. My team did a great job to bring me there safely.
"On the cobbles it's hard but it's mostly about the position once you enter the cobbles. When you're there among the first four or five it's sort of okay. Of course, you still have to be focused and stay alert. Some sections were very slippery and muddy. Up front, we didn't know what to expect. We just had to see how it was there and see the lines. Overall, the sensations were great to really do Paris-Roubaix. Once you're racing you're just trying to do your best. It was fantastic to finish here in the velodrome."
Vos has been featured as a spokesperson for the women's peloton for 15 years. Finally having a women's edition of Paris-Roubaix is a major victory and Vos felt that the epic conditions were the icing on the cake.
"Maybe it had to be like this, that the first edition had to be in these conditions with the mud and the rain. It even made it more epic. With the delay after the announcement of the first Paris-Roubaix of course we had a longer wait. It made the excitement even bigger. All the teams were definitely ready for this first race. With the build-up in the last couple of weeks, the hype around the first Paris-Roubaix got bigger and bigger. You feel those nerves and the excitement as a rider as well. It has been great to be part of this inaugural Paris-Roubaix. It's even better that it's now one of the races that will be there every season."
Riding on the cobbles requires a special skill set and clearly, Vos owns those skills. When she attacked, Elise Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) was able to keep up on the straight-forward sections but in the corners she was unable to match Vos' speed.
"I tried not to think too much. Of course as a cyclist sometimes you have to switch off your mind and just go. The safest place is to be in front of where the bad things happen. You try to stay out of trouble. Like I said, my teammates did really well to keep me in position before the first sector. Later on it's still positioning. Once you're on the cobbles you just try to keep your line, it's not like you think so much. You try to let the bike do the work. You keep pedalling and keep pushing. You have to let go. Just in the final you give everything that you have and it was one to one in the final," Vos said.
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