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The European road race and world time trial champion is a big favorite for Saturday’s race but she doesn’t see it that way following a hard crash during last year’s race.
Van Dijk rode to the finish but a post-race check-up revealed she had a concussion after hitting her head in a fall inside the final 20 kilometers — an injury that she was still recovering from several months later. Despite her anxieties about hitting the deck again, however, she’s looking forward to getting stuck into the race.
“I do not really consider myself as a favorite anymore after last year, so I don’t carry that pressure around,” van Dijk said in a press conference. “I am ready and I’m excited to go out there and ride as fast as I can.
“I have some anxiety in me from last year. It’s been a rough three months to get back to normal – I had a really heavy concussion and it’s something that I don’t want to have again, of course. We’ll see how it goes on Saturday. I think the form is there but it’s not only about that. I just need to be in the front and then everything will be OK.”
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Last year’s inaugural edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes was raced in wet conditions, causing the cobbles to be muddy and slippery. While the conditions were not as bad as it would be for the men the following day, it still made for a very challenging day out with crashes far harder to avoid than they might have been if it was dry.
It wasn’t just van Dijk herself that was affected by her crash, her partner was too. While she had committed herself to riding it again no matter the weather, he wasn’t so sure.
“I didn’t have any doubts [about returning] and I know that it’s a race that suits me. My boyfriend kept telling me ‘if it’s going rain, I forbid you to start – you’re sure not going to start again.’ I didn’t know how I would tell the team and I don’t know if I would have listened to him but I’m happy it’s dry anyway,” she said.
Though van Dijk has played down her role as a favorite, she is still a top contender for victory in many people’s minds. She is a successful cobbled classics rider already and has the sheer power to push over the flat, but rugged terrain.
However, last year’s experience of the race has told her that there’s more to winning in Roubaix than just the watts you can put down.
“I know I have the power for it. But I also learned that you do not just need the power for it. You need way more to win this race than just good power,” van Dijk said.
A repeat performance?
Trek-Segafredo comes into this weekend’s race as the defending champions after Lizzie Deignan’s mammoth solo effort secured her place as the first-ever women’s winner. Few thought the winning move would go so early — including the organizers, which meant there was no television coverage of the attack — but riders will be ready for it this year.
Van Dijk believes that more teams will be looking to get someone up front early on, but with completely different conditions, it will be hard to predict how the race will play out.
“It’s super difficult because nobody knows this race very well yet. Last year was the first time and nobody ever expected that Lizzie would make the winning move with 80k to go, even Lizzie herself,” van Dijk said. “I expect that this year a lot of girls will want to go early just because of last year. They saw it is possible so I think that this year everybody will be keen from the beginning on.
“I really think it will be a totally different race with the dry weather conditions. It will be faster, there will be bigger groups but maybe there will be bigger crashes. For sure, it will be chaos. I just expect that a lot of people will want to attack early on.”
Though there will be no Deignan this year, Van Dijk is not the only potential winner in the Trek-Segafredo. Last year’s third-place finisher Elisa Longo Borghini will be back, while Lucinda Brand is set to make her debut, and world champion Elisa Balsamo is also set to ride.
“We have a super good team and have a lot of different options. And I think that’s really good in this race because anything can happen,” van Dijk said. “For sure somebody will have bad luck, somebody will have a great day, somebody will have a bad day. I think it’s just super nice to have a very strong team here and I think that’s only in our favor.”