Classics

A date in the history books: First Paris-Roubaix Femmes a big milestone for women’s cycling

Jolien D'hoore, Ellen van Dijk, and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig share their thoughts as the women's peloton prepares itself for a date with history.

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Paris-Roubaix Femmes is coming.

For some, it is a race that they’ve wanted to ride since they picked up their first bike but thought would never be able to. As more races continued to be added to the women’s calendar, and ASO even appeared open to the idea of a women’s Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix stayed firmly just out of reach.

For soon-to-be retired Jolien D’hoore, it’s a childhood dream come true to be able to race upon the same cobbles as some Belgian heroes from the past.

Also read: No rest for Anna van der Breggen as she slots into DS role at Paris-Roubaix Femmes

“I wanted to ride this race even more than Flanders. It’s a big difference with Flanders, you can’t compare it. In Flanders, it’s real cobbles and here it’s just a bunch of rocks thrown together. You have holes in between and it’s just a fight,” D’hoore told VeloNews.

“I think it’s my dream race. If there’s one race that suits me the most it’s Paris-Roubaix. It’s the race with so much prestige. When I was a little girl, I watched it on TV, and I can remember Johan Museeuw or Tom Boonen winning this race. It has so many memories for me.”

The wait for the first Paris-Roubaix Femmes has been drawn out. First, we had to wait for organizer ASO to buckle under the weight of desire for this race. And then it was COVID-19 that kept it from our grasp for just that little longer.

However, organizer apathy and a worldwide pandemic couldn’t prevent it from finally happening, and the first-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes will be held this Saturday. Having had to wait so long it almost doesn’t feel real that it is going to happen, but it is.

Also read: Paris-Roubaix Femmes route confirmed with 17 cobbled sectors, including Carrefour de l’Arbre

The excitement among the women’s peloton is palpable, even with those that have absolutely no desire to race it themselves, such as newly retired Anna van der Breggen. For European champion Ellen van Dijk, who has a real chance of winning the first cobblestone, it’s a special moment.

While her teammates rode one lap of the track and headed to the team campervan following their recon of the course Wednesday, van Dijk stayed out there to do about five before she went after them — but not before taking a picture with the young fans that had gathered at the track.

“I really like to ride on this velodrome because of the big history and I want to practice it a little bit. I have been on it a couple of times. The first time, it was a magical feeling but now I know it a little bit. It’s still always special, though,” van Dijk told VeloNews. “It’s really nice to have this race. It gets a lot of attention and it’s a great race so I’m really happy with it.”

A day for the history books

Rumors had swirled around about a push for a women’s Paris-Roubaix but there was little tangible evidence for it until the UCI revealed its reworked coronavirus calendar for 2020, with a little surprise added into it. While it didn’t happen on that occasion or the next, the cat was well and truly out of the bag.

There has been nothing like Paris-Roubaix on the women’s calendar. Indeed, there is almost nothing like it on the men’s calendar.

Of course, there are cobbled races, but none with the same brutality and mystique that comes with an edition of the “Hell of the North.” This is the women’s peloton going into the unknown.

What we do know is that this is going to be tough, with wind and rain predicted on top of the pavé onslaught.

With the race first announced a year ago, many teams have had the chance to try out the cobbles in the intervening 12 months. However, Wednesday was the final chance for many riders to test themselves before the big day and the gravity of the situation set in.

“It was super cool. I’m so excited for Saturday, but also a little bit afraid because it’s going to be super hard. It’s a good mix of excitement and a bit afraid. I think you have to have respect for the cobbles and for the course,” Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig told VeloNews.

“It was a new experience, but everyone has been telling me that you cannot compare it to anything, this will be crazy, so I was expecting it. I’ve been watching it since I was a little girl and I kind of knew without really knowing. Now it’s confirmed.

“It’s going to be in the history books. It’s going to be cool, and I think a lot of people will be watching and it’s such an epic race for the men. I think everyone dreams of winning the first edition. I hope that I can be in the mix.”

For the first-ever women’s Paris-Roubaix, the peloton will do a few laps of Denain before heading out to the pavé. They will take on the first of the 17 cobbled sectors after 33k and it will be relentless until the riders reach Roubaix.

While there is nothing like it on the women’s calendar, there are still some clear favorites emerging among the bunch. Look to the likes of Ellen van Dijk, Lizzie Deignan, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Jolien D’hoore, Marianne Vos, Floortje Mackaij, and new world champion Elisa Balsamo to be in the final selection Saturday. Climbers such as Annemiek van Vleuten and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig could also be contenders on a strong day.