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Paris-Roubaix Femmes: 10 riders to watch for the ‘Hell of the North’

With no Lizzie Deignan this year, there'll be a new name on the famed cobble trophy. From Marianne Vos to Lotte Kopecky, here are some of the riders to watch this Saturday.

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There’s nothing like Paris-Roubaix on the cycling calendar.

The rough, uneven hunks of pavé that cover the farm tracks of northern France have no parallel elsewhere during the season. Indeed, they make the cobbles of the Belgian classics look also smooth by comparison.

With nothing to compare it to, the path to victory is much less predictable and far more open than most other events on the calendar.

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There are some big names in the bunch that will start as major favorites, but Paris-Roubaix Femmes is a race that could just as easily see an outsider ride on to glory. With defending champion Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) sitting out of 2022 as she is pregnant, there will be a new name on the cobble in Roubaix this weekend.

Who will be on the podium at the end of the second edition? VeloNews takes a look at 10 of the riders to watch this Saturday.

Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)

Marianne Vos is the only member of last year’s podium that will be lining up in Denain this weekend. Vos mounted a spirited chase of Deignan in the final kilometers of the 2021 race, but she didn’t have enough left in the tank to close down the Trek-Segafredo rider before the velodrome and she had to settle for second.

Vos won’t want to play second fiddle the second time around and she will come into this weekend with her focus set on victory. The Dutch rider has hardly raced on the road this season after winning her eighth cyclocross world title in January, competing just three times in the six weeks leading up to Roubaix.

It’s not clear why Vos missed the defense of her Amstel Gold Race title last weekend, but she was ill earlier in the spring, which forced her to miss the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. If she is clear of illness, then the fewer racing days could work to her advantage with some extra freshness in her legs.

Vos has won almost everything else on the calendar and taking the Paris-Roubaix Femmes title would be a huge feather in her cap.

Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo)

Lizzie Deignan was meant to be working for Ellen van Dijk at the first edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes and it was in that capacity that she pushed hard onto the opening cobbled sector. Van Dijk’s race was less fortunate, and the European champion left Roubaix with a concussion after hitting her head hard in a crash on one of the final cobbled sectors.

Van Dijk will be hoping for better luck on her second attempt and with no Deignan or Elisa Longo Borghini, who finished third last year, she will be one of the big hopes for Trek-Segafredo this weekend. Her big engine and power as a time trialist make her well suited to this rugged terrain.

The 35-year-old has had a strong start to the season, winning a stage of the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and taking the time trial of the Bloeizone Fryslan Tour en-route to the overall victory. She has also played a big role in her teammates’ success so far this year, pulling back breakaways and keeping tabs on the bunch. This, however, is a big chance for some personal success.

Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx)

Lotte Kopecky has been one of the stars of the 2022 season so far with victories at Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders. After so much back luck and frustration during her 2021 classics campaign, Kopecky has flourished within the SD Worx setup this year.

With her recent form, Kopecky is the overwhelming favorite for Saturday. She finished 15th in the first edition, but she’ll be hoping for a lot more this time around. With the backing of a strong SD Worx squad, it could be a case of safety in numbers for the Belgian.

Of course, Paris-Roubaix is the kind of race that can easily tip pre-race plans on their head and Kopecky may have to work for someone else in the end, but she will certainly start with leadership status. A win at Paris-Roubaix would cap off what has been the biggest spring of Kopecky’s career so far and firmly place her in the hearts and minds of Belgian cycling fans at home.

Emma Norsgaard (Movistar Team)

Emma Norsgaard would have liked to have more than one win in her back pocket by this point in the season, but the Danish rider has still had a very solid spring campaign so far. Her only visit to the top of the podium came with a convincing win at Le Samyn des Dames at the beginning of March.

In her seven days of racing so far, Norsgaard has not been outside of the top 20 with her 17th place at the Amstel Gold Race last weekend the lowest finish she’s had in 2022. Paris-Roubaix is much better suited to Norsgaard’s skillset and her sprint finish will make her a favorite for victory from many small groups.

Norsgaard had a difficult debut at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, crashing several times and finishing caked in mud. However, she still managed sixth place and finished within the first large group of riders.

Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo)

Lucinda Brand is one of the few big favorites that didn’t ride in last year’s inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes. The Dutch rider decided to skip the 2021 race as she focused on her cyclocross season instead. While it was a call that worked well for her as she enjoyed a very successful ‘cross campaign, it was certainly disappointing not to see her in action.

We will get the chance to do that this weekend as Brand makes her debut in the race. Brand’s power and cyclocross skills will stand her in good stead over the rough Roubaix cobbles.

Unlike many multi-discipline riders, Brand extended her ‘cross campaign well after the world championships, winning in Lille, Gavere, and Sint Niklaas in February. She made her debut on the road for this season just two weeks ago at Dwars door Vlaanderen, where she finished 11th. She played the team game at the Tour of Flanders and the Amstel Gold Race, but Saturday will be an opportunity for her to shine in her own right.

Trek-Segafredo brings a hugely strong team to defend Deignan’s title with van Dijk and world champion Elisa Balsamo also potential contenders for the cobblestone trophy at the end of the day.

Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)

Marta Cavalli isn’t the build you would expect of a Roubaix cobble crusher but there’s more to the Italian than those first impressions would imply. Cavalli, a rider who has finished in the top 10 at the Giro d’Italia Donne, raced into ninth at the debut edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes last October.

Despite her finishing position in 2021, Cavalli is more of an outsider for this Saturday, but that’s what this race was made for. The 24-year-old is in flying form at the moment, and she scored the biggest victory of her career last week, racing away over the top of the Cauberg to win the Amstel Gold Race.

After plenty of close calls for her and her team, morale in the squad will be sky high on the start line in Denain. FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope can also look to the likes of Grace Brown, who finished seventh at the Tour of Flanders earlier this month.

Christine Majerus (SD Worx)

Christine Majerus is more often seen at the front of the peloton putting in the hard work to set up her teammates for victory, but she is not pigeonholed into that role and does get her own opportunities for success.

Paris-Roubaix Femmes is likely to be one of these chances. Like many in this group, her cyclocross skills and big engine mean she is well suited to this race and she was the second finisher for SD Worx last year in 11th place, just behind Chantal van den Broek-Blaak. While van den Broek-Blaak is a strong contender, along with Kopecky, it’s worth keeping an eye on Majerus this Saturday as she could play something of a wildcard option for SD Worx.

Majerus has tasted victory already this season with her win at the Drentse Acht van Westerveld at the start of March. More recently, she finished 15th at the Tour of Flanders after helping to set up Kopecky for the win.

Lorena Wiebes (Team DMS)

After failing to finish last year’s edition of the race, Lorena Wiebes is definitely an outsider for Paris-Roubaix, but this is a race she would like to win someday and, with her talent, a victory is something that she could certainly achieve. With dry conditions expected for this weekend, she will likely hope to fair better this Saturday.

Wiebes has enjoyed a rich vein of form in the early part of this season, racking up four wins already and two further podium finishes. She put behind her the bad luck of Gent-Wevelgem, where she crashed at a key moment, and bounced back to win Scheldeprijs last week.

Of course, Paris-Roubaix is a very different prospect, but Wiebes has very good bike handling skills that should help her get through. With her sprint finish, Wiebes will be a big threat to any group she’s in and her biggest task will be to try and follow the key attacks — something that is definitely easier said than done.

Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ)

With her announced retirement coming ever-nearer, each race is the last opportunity for Marta Bastianelli, and how she would love to add a giant cobblestone to her collection before the year is out. The Italian former world champion was well in the mix last year and led home the first big group to take fifth place.

Bastianelli had a standout start to the 2022 season with wins at the one-day Vuelta CV Feminas, the final stage of the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, and Omloop van het Hageland. Her last win came in February but she has been consistently getting into the top end of the results, with 10th at the Tour of Flanders as her most recent race.

Marjolein van ‘t Geloof (Le Col-Wahoo)

Marjolein van ‘t Geloof is a rider that Paris-Roubaix was almost designed for. She is a rider that is often found putting in the hard kilometers for her teammates, but this brutal race is a chance for her to shine.

She has had some good results at some of the smaller cobbled races such as Le Samyn des Dames and Nokere Koerse and finished just outside the top 10 at last year’s Paris-Roubaix Femmes.

The “Hell of the North” is about being in the right place at the right time and tagging onto the right move can be all a rider needs to secure a top result. On a good day van ‘t Geloof could get into the mix with the WorldTour teams and pull herself out something big.