From picking rocks in fields to taking home a cobble: Alison Jackson goes full circle with Paris-Roubaix win
Canadian takes surprise win at the 'Hell of the North' after getting into early breakaway.
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ROUBAIX, France (VN) — When Alison Jackson was a child, she used to help out on her family’s farm by picking up rocks from the fields so that the farming equipment wouldn’t get damaged.
It seems fitting now that the 34-year-old Canadian has her own rock trophy after blasting to victory at the third edition of the Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift.
Jackson proudly showed off her cobbled reward in her winner’s press conference and noted how tickled her family would be by it, particularly her young nephews.
“I grew up on a farm in rural Alberta and one of my jobs as a kid was to go into the field and pick rocks by hand and put them in the truck and lo and behold, I’m picking another rock and taking it home,” Jackson said. “It’s pretty fun with my nephews. They will go into the back field and look for rocks to pick so they have their own rock collection or just so the farmers don’t run into trouble. I think that they will really love and appreciate this trophy that I won.
“I always say that I love bike racing, it’s so fun, but it’s always really fun when you win. To win at such a big bike race and we’re just building the history of it, and also as a Canadian to win this race is pretty monumental for cycling in Canada, for me it’s the biggest win of my career, it’s a dream come true.”
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Jackson’s buildup to the race was less than ideal and she is still recovering from a knee injury that she picked up last month, which required stitches, at the Ronde van Drenthe.
She was part of the early 18-rider breakaway that went clear on the opening laps around Denain, which contained representatives from almost all of the teams. With little impetus to chase early on, the group was allowed a substantial gap that stood the group in good stead in the closing kilometers.
As the Roubaix velodrome neared, it looked like the group of favorites behind would reel them in as the gap dropped to a nerve-wracking 10 seconds. Jackson has a proven sprint finish, but she knew that letting the chasers catch the break could spell the end of her chances so she wanted to go all in and risk it to keep them behind.
“I tried a couple of times on the cobbles to really pull hard. Even some of the girls in that move were telling me that I’m riding really strong and I knew that I would be one of the strongest in that group, but when you are that also means you’ve got to play your cards and actually commit to using some of that energy to keep it away,” Jackson said.
“I know I have a good sprint, but when you’ve been in the breakaway for so long and you’ve been away for 100km, to give it up at the end by playing it safe wasn’t going to sit well with me. I would rather give my heart out fully and then end up mid-pack in that group then sit in and allow the group to catch us and still have a minimal result. It’s the gamble of what sport is.”
Allowing the riders to make the race
In three editions of the race, this is the first time that a true early breakaway has won the Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift with Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini going solo over the cobbles to win the first two events.
Jackson believes that the extra 20 kilometers that were added before the cobbles for this year’s race was the key to helping the break have a fighting chance.
“The first edition was far too short. We did two crit laps and then we were straight into the cobbles. This now we had time to set up the race,” Jackson said. “We set up the race with this break going early and it was a big break, and not many teams missed it, and then also Paris-Roubaix always getting ahead of the tough positioning in the cobbles was always going to be better and when you’re in a smaller group there’s always less fighting.
“It had rained earlier this week, so some of the cobbles were going to be wet and the cobbles were going to be muddy. Just to get ahead, you’re saving yourself from bad luck, crashes, flats. The group wasn’t always working together but there were enough girls that you see this as your chance. In Paris-Roubaix, to go in a group that early, if you watch the men’s, those can go really far. I just wanted to get ahead of Lotte Kopecky, basically. It’s always a gamble.”
At 145km, this year’s edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes is the longest since the race began in 2021. As women’s racing develops, racing is getting longer but Jackson believes that it was not necessarily the overall distance that made the difference Saturday.
“I don’t think our races have to be longer to be exciting, but for this type of race we needed to have a longer start so that we could make it more entertaining. Maybe we could set up the race, and maybe a break could go and it’s not just all determined on how one rides the cobbles and you can play the tactic more,” she said.