We only had to wait 118 years.
The first Paris-Roubaix Femmes got off with a bang Saturday with Lizzie Deignan opening the race’s account with an 82k solo victory, jumping off the front of the peloton on the opening section of cobbles.
Paris-Roubaix often seemed like it would be forever the domain of the “hard men” of cycling, but finally, the “hard women” have been allowed to show their mettle on the rough pavé of northern France.
Now that the mud has dried and the dust has settled on the Paris-Roubaix Femmes opener, did it live up to expectations, how will it be remembered, just what will its place be in cycling history, and what needs some work?
Let’s dive in.
Did it live up to expectations?
Yes, and then some.
The inaugural edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes delivered plenty of action, spills, drama, and upsets. The only major letdown was the fact that we were unable to see the peloton hit the first sector of cobbles, after coverage was restricted to the final 60k, which ultimately meant that the race-winning move could not be watched by anyone other than those stationed on the cobbled sector.
Nevertheless, what we did see was a true epic that was befitting of the occasion that was only added to by the rain and mud.
While it would have been nice to see a slightly closer contest for the victory, Lizzie Deignan’s solo ride was a huge effort worthy of its gritty surroundings. Her lead was never that large, but in conditions where avoiding others was just as difficult as staying on your bike, her lone ride off the front proved to be the best choice.
Marianne Vos’ last-ditch effort to bring Deignan back, added a little bit of late drama to proceedings but — even for the great Vos — the gap was too much to close.
The riders put on a fantastic show in the first edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes and now we just have to wait six months before the second edition.
How will it be remembered?
When we look back at the pictures some 20 years from now, the mud-spattered faces will be what stands out. Though Paris-Roubaix has a mythic of its own within the cycling world, a wet Roubaix is something else entirely.
Marianne Vos summed it up very nicely when she said: “I think maybe it had to be like this, that the first edition was like this with these conditions with the mud and the rain. It even made it more epic.”
As the finer details of the day fade into memory, one other aspect of the race will be seared into the history books and the minds of those that watched it — Lizzie Deignan’s daylong ride. She wasn’t meant to be the Trek-Segafredo leader but a chance split saw her edge out a lead and she wouldn’t be seen by the others again until they reached the velodrome.
As if her ride was not baller enough, she did the whole race without gloves.
What is its place in history?
There is no doubt that the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes was a historic moment for cycling. Until Saturday, the peloton had not ridden anything like it before and the riders pedaled into the unknown as they rolled out of the northern French town of Denain shortly after 13:30.
It was not that long ago that the organizer ASO said there was no appetite for a women’s Paris-Roubaix. Whether or not that was right at the time, there was certainly a desire for it when it was first announced in 2020 and even more so after the extra year’s wait for it.
The first-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes is not a turning point for women’s cycling, to say that would be to forget everything that has happened in the last decade. It is a sign of the huge momentum the women’s side of the sport has gathered and it is another major step on the way towards parity, across all aspects of it, with the men.
Look back to 10 years ago, and the idea of the mighty ASO creating a Paris-Roubaix for women would have seemed unimaginable. However, it now hosts that as well as creating a Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes and there is a Tour de France Femmes just around the corner.
Meanwhile, the peloton is increasing in professionalism and there are companies banging down the door of the UCI to register as a part of the WorldTour. A Paris-Roubaix Femmes is a sign of just how far things have come for the women’s peloton.
What needs some work?
As is often the case with new things, there are always a few issues and gripes that need fixing for the second go.
First and foremost is the live television pictures. Maybe we should be grateful for any at all as ASO had to be begrudgingly forced to give live coverage of its other women’s races just a few years ago.
However, it would have been a fantastic showcase for the race if TV pictures had started at least when the riders were due onto the cobbles for the first time. The main action was always going to happen on the cobbles and not to show the first few sectors was a short-sighted move from the organizer.
Better prize money. In the big debate about what is needed to further women’s cycling more, prize money falls slightly behind television coverage. However, it feels like a kick in the teeth when you see that Deignan got just €1,535 compared to Sonny Colbrelli’s €30,000 for winning the men’s. The overall women’s prize pot was just €7,005 while the men had €91,000 split between them.
Of course, it will take time to build up to the same amounts for both men and women, but such a big disparity is just not trying from ASO.
The last of the big improvements needed when the race returns in six months is better timing. It looks as though next year’s men’s and women’s races will be held on the same day. Hopefully, ASO will host a joint team presentation for all the teams so as not to split the loyalties of fans. One hopes that they also won’t start the women’s race so obnoxiously early that they’re forced to eat plates of pasta at 5:30 am.
Should they ever hold it on separately, the need to plan better as hosting the men’s team presentation during the women’s race ensured that there would be some who had to make a choice between which race they wanted to support, from the fans to the media.
There were some other small things that made the race feel as though it was flying by the seat of its pants at times. Large queues formed at the media accreditation area before the race, as it seemed as though the organizer was surprised just how many people wanted to cover the race, while finding the WIFI password for the media center was as hard as it was to figure what was going on early in the race.
These are simple fixes that should hopefully be ironed out as the race finds its footing in the calendar.