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Anna van der Breggen will have a new role at the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
Instead of bashing the cobbles, the former road race and time trial world champion will be learning the ropes as a sport director for her SD Worx squad just a week after her final race as a professional rider.
The Dutchwoman is set to become a full-time sport director for the team in 2022, but she is hanging around in northern France to get a taste of what’s to come.
She will be shadowing team manager and lead DS Danny Stam during the “Hell of the North” to see what she has in store for her before leading a race on her own next season.
“I’m just going for the experience. I will try to see as much as possible how Danny is approaching things and what he is taking care of,” van der Breggen told VeloNews in Roubaix on Wednesday after SD Worx completed its recon of the final 85k of the race.
“Maybe I can help the mechanics and the soigneurs. You need to know as a sport director all the different roles in a team and normally I’m focused on my own bike and I check my gears and tire pressure, but the picture goes from one thing to the overview.”
Van der Breggen was sat in the team car with Stam as the six riders who will contest Paris-Roubaix took a look at the course. Even without their recently retired star rider, SD Worx will be among the major favorites for the race with Elena Cecchini, Jolien D’hoore, Christine Majerus, Amy Pieters, Lonnike Uneken and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak set to line up in Denain on Saturday morning.
Just a week into her retirement did van der Breggen feel the desire to get out and race with her teammates?
“Not at all,” she laughed. “It’s something really specific and these six riders are very good in this. Sometimes I think, this is ‘oooh’ and I’m just happy that I don’t have to do it. Normally, in women’s cycling, you have to be pretty good in everything, in climbing, in crits, in different kinds of racing but I think it’s good. Some girls really would like to do it, and I don’t feel this and that’s fine because we have enough girls to do it.”
A big moment for women’s cycling
While van der Breggen might not be doing the race herself, she can feel the significance of it and how important it is for some riders. Van der Breggen was part of the Specialized campaign, along with Majerus and van den Broek-Blaak, when it launched its updated Roubaix bike in 2019.
As part of the campaign, Specialized signaled its desire for a women’s Paris-Roubaix with its tagline “The Roubaix is no longer just for men. The race shouldn’t be either.” It was an issue that the manufacturer had been pushing for some time but it seemed that organizer ASO was not going to relent, until last year.
After a delay caused by COVID-19, the race is finally going ahead.
“I think everybody is really excited and you can see how many people are around. I think it’s something we never had before and that’s strange of course,” van der Breggen said. “It’s not only for the girls, who are excited, but it’s also for the people around. Everybody is looking forward to something new and you don’t know how it goes. It’s something new and that’s the special thing.”
A small silver lining in the delay, for some, is that the women’s race will be held a day ahead of the men’s. While it won’t be able to piggyback on the men’s spectators and viewers, it also won’t have to compete with the men’s event and give fans a proper chance to see the race unfold.
Van der Breggen hopes that this will entice new fans who want to have a full weekend watching Paris-Roubaix and persuade them to watch more women’s cycling in the future. She believes that the more exposure fans get to women’s racing the more engrossed in it they’ll become. It’s all cycling after all.
“If you have enough time to show it on television and make it a bit longer program to have a sort of discussion, then it’s even more exciting. It’s a bit different to “oh, the women are also racing, let’s go 10 minutes to watch the women’s race,” she said.
“It’s equal. Saturday is for us, and Sunday is for the guys,” she continued. “Maybe more people will like the men’s, but I think they have to know women’s racing, and this is the way they can do that. Maybe they’re not big fans of women’s cycling but it’s a race on Saturday so let’s watch it and then it’s prime time on Sunday, but it can change.
“If we can show our races are exciting and they can see it then maybe next time they put women’s racing on the agenda. It’s something that needs to grow, and fans are not fans right away. It needs time.”