Who will be the first women’s winner of the famed cobble trophy?
To win a monument such as Paris-Roubaix is a moment that can define a rider’s career, but to be the first-ever is something else. Only one rider can ever claim they were the first and their name will be forever etched in the history books, top of the list of winners.
There is nothing else like Paris-Roubaix on the women’s calendar, or indeed the men’s, and we could see some new specialists emerge from the mud and dust as leaders in this discipline.
Past performances can give us some hints as to who will top the podium Saturday but there are likely to be some surprises, too.
Who will be crowned queen of the cobbles this weekend? These are just a few riders who could be coronated Saturday.
Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service)
The newly crowned road race world champion, Elisa Balsamo will be racing for the first time in the rainbow bands in Roubaix. Balsamo is in the form of her life at the moment, and she’ll be boosted by the prestige of the jersey she has on her back on such a historic day.
The 23-year-old will not have the same fulsome support she had from an incredibly strong Italian team at the worlds, but she still has some firepower behind her that could see her to victory with Elena Pirrone, Vittoria Guazzini, and Chiara Consonni down to ride.
As she showed at the worlds, she has the gas to take the win against the world’s best after a brutal day of racing, something she’ll need this Saturday. If she is able to grab the win, she’ll be among the youngest to claim a Paris-Roubaix victory.
Marianne Vos (Jimbo-Visma)
If this race had been inaugurated 10 years ago, it’s easy to imagine that Marianne Vos might have already been a multiple-time champion at Paris-Roubaix. This race is well suited to her grit and determination style of racing that is rounded off with a fast finish.
By virtue of it not being on the calendar until this year, it is one of the few races that Vos has never won. While she says that she doesn’t feel the need to fill holes in her palmarès, winning the first-ever Paris-Roubaix would be a nice addition to an already bulging list of achievements.
It might just be the cobble that breaks the trophy shelf if she does come home with it.
With riders such as Romy Kasper and Riejanne Markus behind her, Vos has some strong support but she may well be the final Jumbo-Visma rider in the group when the key selection is made.
Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo)
Trek-Segafredo comes to the first Paris-Roubaix Femmes with a squad that most teams would envy and to pick just one from the team to go for glory is a tricky task, with Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini part of a formidable six-rider line-up.
In the end, Ellen van Dijk was the rider that stood out the most in this team. Van Dijk has been in formidable form coming into the final part of the season after the disappointment of missing Olympic selection.
Having finished on the podium in the time trial at the European championships, she soloed to victory in the road race two days later. She then stormed to victory in the worlds time trial, helped her Dutch team to silver in the mixed team relay, and could have been on the podium, or perhaps even won if her team hadn’t chased her down, at the worlds road race.
Van Dijk is the stereotypical cobble cruncher with her big engine to power over the pavé.
She’ll be a formidable opponent come Saturday.
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx)
Much like Trek-Segafredo, SD Worx comes with a team brimming with potential contenders for Saturday’s race. Christine Majerus, Jolien D’hoore, Amy Pieters, Elena Cecchini, and Lonneke Uneken could all find themselves in a prime position at the pointy end of the race.
However, the rider that stands above them all is former world champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak. Van den Broek-Blaak will be retiring after the spring classics next year so she will only have two chances at adding a massive hunk of pavé to her trophy collection before she hangs up her wheels.
At times, van den Broek-Blaak can fly under the radar compared to some of her Dutch compatriots, but she is a prolific winner that excels on the rough terrain provided by the classics. She won Strade Bianche earlier this year and recently closed out a hard-fought GC win at the Simac Ladies Tour.
She has the power to master the cobbles and maybe even ride away from her rivals. Her fast finish will stand her in good stead if she comes to the line in a small group.
Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling)
Lisa Brennauer has had a standout second half of the 2021 season, which began at the Olympics. In Tokyo, Brennauer took sixth in both the road race and time trial before helping the German squad to obliterate the team pursuit world record and take home the gold medal.
What followed was a bronze medal in the European time trial and fifth at the worlds before once again helping to guide Germany to a convincing gold medal in the mixed team relay. She rounded it off with a top 10 in the worlds road race last Saturday.
A former time trial world champion, Brennauer has a glistening palmarès but she has never won a major one-day race during her career outside of her own national championships. Paris-Roubaix is a big opportunity for Brennauer to change that and cap off a strong 2021.