BRUSSELS (VN) — Everyone inside the peloton agrees on one thing about Saturday’s Paris-Roubaix Femmes — it will be a race unlike any other.
The women’s WorldTour hits sectors of pavé and a mix of cobblestones in a variety of races across the calendar, but nothing on earth compares to the rough and tumble stones looming in northern France.
With the historical race just days away, many pre-race favorites are already buzzing.
“You can’t compare the cobbles in Roubaix with any other race,” said Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD-Worx). “It’s a super-cool course, a typical one-day race, it fits me and I’ve been waiting for this moment.”
The former world champion will be near the top of the pre-race favorites. Ellen Van Dijk and Lizzie Deignan (both Trek-Segafredo) also have the right profile, while perennial favorites Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) might find the lumpy course too punishing, but their experience could come shining through.
The inaugural edition already promises to be a maximum test of strength, endurance, and determination.
Unlike the men’s race, which includes nearly 100km of open roads before hitting the first sectors, the women’s course dives straight into the cobblestones within the first hour of racing after doing three loops on a circuit in Denain.
And the chance of showers overnight Friday and buffeting winds throughout Saturday could make for an attritional day of racing.
“The course is tough enough as it is. If you add rain into the mix … ,” said Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope). ” I want to see a battle in which the best riders go head to head, not one in which the winner is simply the one who manages to stay on her bike.”
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Elisa Longo Borghini, who was key to help setting up compatriot Elisa Balsamo for the world title last weekend in Leuven, is committing herself to help Trek-Segafredo teammate Van Dijk, who won the world time trial title last week.
The Dutch rider, with her bigger build and time trialing skills, should be right at the top of favorites, at least on paper. The Italian said she’s ready to help her in any way she can.
“I don’t think the race suits me very well, but I’m convinced that I can be a great help for my team Trek-Segafredo,” Longo-Borghini said. “I’m a professional cyclist and I have to adjust myself to the races that are given to me. I know my job and I have to do it, end of the story. I’ll race for what is our aim — to win with Ellen van Dijk.”
Several riders who also dabble in cyclocross or mountain biking might be at an advantage, including the likes of Vos and several Belgian riders.
Many riders say they’ve been consulting with their trade team counterparts, with the likes of Mads Pedersen and John Degenkolb providing some hints on technique and tactics.
Many teams had already visited the cobbles last year in anticipation of what was supposed to be the first race, but COVID-19 put a crimp on those plans. Teams are heading back this week for a final look at the cobblestone sectors, recently spruced up as crews cleaned out weeds and other undergrowth on several key sectors.
“I think I’m a cobble-gobbler,” said French rider Audrey Cordon-Ragot. “Positioning will also be key in the approach to the cobbled sectors, and I think my experience will help me here because I’ve learned a lot when it comes to fighting for my place in the peloton. … It’s a race where cycling history is made.”
In fact, it’s that chance at making history as the first winner of Paris-Roubaix Femmes that’s heightening anticipation even more ahead of Saturday’s big date.
The milestone race will quickly hold a place of special regard for anyone who wins it.
“To be honest, I have no idea what to expect,” said Ludwig. “More than anything else, I hope to be able to cross the finish line knowing I’ve got nothing left in the tank. Whoever wins this Paris-Roubaix will go down in history. Everyone’s dreaming of being that person.”