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Audrey Cordon-Ragot confirmed for Paris-Roubaix start after whirlwind week

The French champion will race for Human Powered Health for the first time after exemption from UCI allows her to swap teams.

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VALENCIENNES, France (VN) — It’s official. After a week of rumor and intrigue, Audrey Cordon-Ragot will ride Paris-Roubaix this weekend for Human Powered Health.

The week began with news that Cordon-Ragot had quit the Zaaf team in March after the team failed to pay its riders for three months.

VeloNews then spotted the French champion training on the cobbles of the ‘Hell of the North’ on Wednesday with sources saying that work was going on to secure her a place at the one-day race.

Human Powered Health finally unveiled Friday that it had signed Cordon-Ragot for the remainder of the season and a UCI rule barring riders from switching teams before June 1 had been lifted for the Frenchwoman. It has been a whirlwind week for Cordon-Ragot but she’ll be in Denain on Saturday in her new team colors.

“It came naturally that this team was the best for me. First of all, I like the American style, this is the way I have been living for the last four years. It’s organized and also super respecting the riders, which is something that I have been missing the last three months,” Cordon-Ragot told reporters in a press conference Friday. “We discussed it for three days and it was pretty obvious that we would work together. Then came the problem for June 1.

“We agreed on a June 1 contract and then I was really pushing on my side to get rid of the rule and that they would make it a little bit earlier but I didn’t think that it would be that early.

“Roubaix for me was not even possible, but suddenly the UCI president called me and said it would be possible. We agreed on this pretty quickly after this goal. This was agreed maybe last Monday that it could be possible if the UCI would allow us. It came all together the last couple of days.”

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The rule preventing transfers between teams prior to June 1 remains at this time. However, the UCI confirmed to VeloNews that it was willing to issue exemptions — which is what Cordon-Ragot got — if a rider could “manifest and compelling reasons for terminating their contractual relationship” with their former team.

It opens the doors for other riders from the Zaaf squad to swap teams if they can get a new contract. Cordon-Ragot believes that the rule will be amended in the future to accommodate situations like the one at Zaaf.

“It is not the situation why the rule has been made. It is for small teams to try and keep their riders until the end of the season or at least until June 1 if they go to a bigger team because they were good at the beginning of the season,” she said. “Considering our situation where we were not paid, we were not allowed to race because we were asking for the bank guarantee, I think it was not fair to put us on the couch while the team is still riding and racing Roubaix and other classics.

“Also, not being paid until June 1 means six months without salaries, it was definitely not possible for the other girls. [The UCI] realized that their rule was not adapted to the situation. I think they need to move it a little bit, which I think will be done in the future.”

In at the deep end

Audrey Cordon-Ragot shows off her new Human Powered Health kit
Audrey Cordon-Ragot shows off her new Human Powered Health kit (Photo: Human Powered Health)

Cordon-Ragot has had a tumultuous six months after having a stroke in September last year and then getting caught up in the drama around the B&B Hotels team. She had hoped for a new start with the Spanish Zaaf squad, but it emerged late last month that the Continental squad hadn’t been paying riders’ salaries or expenses since the start of the month.

She terminated her contract with Zaaf shortly after the Tour de Normandie, which finished on March 19. At the time, she did not anticipate that she would be racing again so soon, but she decided to keep up a heavy training block so she was ready whenever the time came.

“After Normandie, I had an easy week. I only did 10 or 12 hours of training and then I was trying to find time to talk with my coaches,” Cordon-Ragot said. “I was asking ‘what are we doing now, are we considering I might not be racing before June 1 or do we just train like I would be racing the day after?’ I didn’t know what I wanted to do but then I said, ‘ok guys, we’re going to train as if I was riding Roubaix’ and we will see what happens.

“I still believed in it so much and it was what we did. I had two really good weeks of training where I trained really hard, I raced with the boys at home on the same day as Flanders and I feel really good. I was doing my job as if I was already on the team.”

The late move has meant trying to get to know her new teammates as quickly as possible. She organized a get-together earlier in the week in an effort to become a part of the group. Those new bonds will be tested quickly with Paris-Roubaix on Saturday.

Despite her ups and downs this season, Cordon-Ragot has been on great form so far this spring and will be among the outside favorites for a podium, but she doesn’t feel the pressure to try and pull out a big result for her new team on her first outing.

“For me, it’s been really relaxing and for tomorrow, which pressure should I have? I got my bike on Monday and I rode it the first time on Monday. I know that the team is waiting for me to get a result. I also know that they are aware of the situation and they know how crazy it has been. I’m just going there and doing what I like to do, and I know how to do,” she said.

“I’ve been riding today in conditions I like, which is muddy and wet. It’s reinforcing the fact that tomorrow I will be ready physically and mentally. Tomorrow, I just want to push the pedals and I want to show the world that you can follow your dreams and you can do it if you keep fighting. Roubaix is a race where you always keep fighting. You can crash so many times and still win the race, this is basically my life for the last month.”

An American in France

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