In 1896, when the men’s peloton was competing in the first-ever edition of Paris-Roubaix, women in France could not vote, control their income, or work without their husband’s consent.
Each race since in its long history has added to the legend that enshrouds Paris-Roubaix, but, like so many of the myths and legends that are told, women were excluded.
It took 124 years for a Paris-Roubaix Femmes to be organized, and 125 years for it to be raced, as the 2020 edition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Already, Paris-Roubaix Femmes seems steeped in history. With her hands bloodied by her handlebars that had juddered up and down on the wet cobbles, Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) rode into the Roubaix velodrome last year alone to become the first-ever winner.
Now, on the hallowed cobbled sectors of northern France, the women’s peloton will add another layer of history to the race.
17. Hornaing to Wandignies, 39.3km: 3,700m (****)
The race begins on the longest and one of the hardest cobbled sectors in Paris-Roubaix. Starting in the small village of Hornaing, this sector skirts the railway line and passes by the twin water towers that loom over the course. In 2021, Deignan accelerated just as the peloton hit the Hornaing on an 82km race-winning solo attack.
16. Warlaing to Brillon, 48.8km: 2,400m (***)
Beginning with a sharp left-hand turn, this sector then unwinds in a straight line so that it is possible to see riders up the road. By this point in the race last year, Deignan was nearly out of sight and a minute ahead of the peloton.
15. Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières, 52.3km: 2,400m (****)
This sector is almost completely flat but features three, right-angled bends that are notoriously difficult to navigate. Last year, the peloton disintegrated on this sector due to various mechanicals and crashes leaving just 32 riders remaining, after a mere 50km of the race.
14. Beuvry-la-Forêt to Orchies, 58.7km: 1,400m (***)
Discovered and restored by Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix — the volunteer group that maintains the cobbles on the course — half of this sector was specifically laid for the race itself. While nothing significant has happened yet on this sector in Paris-Roubaix Femmes, it still plays an important role in accumulating fatigue and making the race exceptionally difficult.
13. Orchies, 63.7km: 1,700m (***)
Although this sector begins in a relatively benign fashion, it crescendos to a 600m false flat with broken pavé under the wheels. Perhaps fittingly, the latter section of this sector is ominously named the Chemin des Abattoirs — the “Path of Slaughterhouses.”
12. Auchy-lez-Orchies to Bersée, 69.8km: 2,700m (****)
A false flat — and a surface so bad that it was removed from the men’s race in 2007 and 2008 — marks this sector as particularly difficult. As the rain fell on the race last year, the cobblestones became increasingly treacherous. On this sector in 2021, Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma) crashed in a pile-up with other riders while Lotte Kopecky (then Liv Racing) punctured and was forced to take her teammate’s bike.
11. Mons-en-Pévèle, 75.2km: 3,000m (*****)
In the absence of the Trouée d’Arenberg, the Mons-en-Pévèle is the first five-star sector on the course. Like the other hardest cobbled sectors in Paris-Roubaix, the road curves like a speed bump and it is common to see riders balancing on the crest of the cobbles or in the gutter. It begins with an uphill section before a sharp left-hand turn where the road descends again. This inconsistent gradient, coupled with a consistently uneven surface makes for one of the most challenging parts of the race, as evidenced by the crash that felled Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Emma Norsgaard (Movistar Team) last year.
10. Mérignies to Avelin, 81.2km: 700m (**)
A relatively short sector that signals the last 40km of the race, the difficulty of this road is still illustrated by the grass growing in the cracks between the cobbles, creating a slippery surface.
9. Pont-Thibault to Ennevelin, 84.6km: 1,400m (***)
Two sharp left-hand corners, the second occurring about two-thirds of the way through the section, are the primary hazard in this sector. Last year, the race somewhat reset behind the lone leader Deignan as a group containing Longo Borghini swelled the ranks of the second group on the road.
8. Templeuve, 90.6km: 700m (**)
Except for the final ceremonial sector in Roubaix, this is the shortest sector in the race and is normally relatively inconsequential. It is largely flat and not too long.
7. Cysoing to Bourghelles, 97km: 1,300m (***)
There is some respite between Templeuve and Cysoing as the riders return to tarmac roads for five kilometers. This sector begins on a relatively good surface which soon makes way for the customary broken roads which are so emblematic of Paris-Roubaix.
6. Bourghelles to Wannehain, 99.5km: 1,100m (***)
Following just a kilometer after the previous sector, these two cobbled roads are a significant obstacle, particularly since they arrive so close to the finish. The pavé is rough and, with nearly 100km and 10 cobbled sectors of fatigue in the legs, increasingly difficult to navigate.
5. Camphin-en-Pévèle, 104km: 1,800m (****)
The road surface here is so choppy that there is no smooth line and in 2021, this sector was race-altering for many riders, providing both a chance to attack and to be struck by misfortune. Eventual runner-up Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) accelerated away from the chasing group in pursuit of Deignan, while one of the pre-race favorites Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) crashed, along with Leah Thomas (Movistar Team) and Sarah Roy (then Team BikeExchange). Deignan also nearly crashed on this sector but managed to stay upright.
4. Carrefour de l’Arbre, 106.7km: 2,100m (*****)
The road on the Carrefour de l’Arbre peaks and troughs as if it were a wave sloshed over the cobblestones by one of the tractors that pass down it. It is the second and last five-star sector of cobbles, and its proximity to the finish marks it as one of the most important points in the race. Last year, Vos began to chip away at Deignan’s lead in this sector, although she was ultimately unsuccessful.
3. Gruson, 109km: 1,100m (**)
Before 2004, the sector at Gruson formed the last part of the Carrefour de l’Arbre. There are just a few meters of tarmac between it and the previous sector, making it still an honorary extension of the Carrefour. If a significant move does escape on the Carrefour, this sector could well determine whether it makes it to the finish or not.
2. Willems to Hem, 115.7km: 1,400m (***)
Fewer than 10km before the finish line, the penultimate sector of pavé is the last true opportunity to attack. Since it is used by traffic as well as in Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Roubaix Femmes, its gutters are smoothed by tarmac, so it is possible to escape the worst of the cobblestones.
1. Roubaix – Espace Charles Crupelandt, 122.4km: 300m (*)
A largely ceremonial last sector, the cobbles in the town of Roubaix are utterly different from those forming the rural tracks around it. They are smoother and more uniform, created in 1996 to celebrate the race’s centenary, and are not intended to affect the race as it edges towards the Roubaix Velodrome.