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It’s the difficult “second album” for Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
After finally holding the first-ever women’s race last October — following several COVID-19-induced delays — the race is already a firm favorite on the calendar.
Can it live up to the hype of the 2021 edition? The answer is most likely to be yes.
Usually, there are 12 months between events, but organizer ASO had just six months to work out the kinks of the first edition. Though the inaugural race was a major success, there were some issues, from concerns around prize money to the television coverage missing the race-winning move.
- Paris-Roubaix men’s race preview: The cobbles, the contenders, the storylines, and the weather
- Zwift becomes title sponsor of Paris-Roubaix Femmes
- Paris-Roubaix Femmes: Did the inaugural edition live up to the hype, and what next for the race?
There have been a few changes in the intervening time with a new title sponsor coming in. Zwift had already partnered up with ASO to sponsor the Tour de France Femmes and it has joined forces with the organizer again to back its biggest one-day race.
Following the new sponsorship, ASO has upped the prize money for the women with a total fund of €50,000 and €20,000 going to the winner. Last season, the race was widely criticized last year for being just one 20th of what was awarded to the men.
The new prize pot is over a 600 percent increase on last year’s with the winner’s money a massive 1,202 percent rise on the 2021 offering.
Learning from last year, the television coverage has been amended to make sure fans won’t miss any cobbles this time. While the broadcast won’t be available from start to finish as the men’s, all 17 of the pavé sectors should make it to live coverage this year.
Hopefully, the winning move won’t get away any earlier — that’s unlikely, though.
The race will be available on FloBikes, Eurosport, and GCN.
The route: Small tweaks make for a bigger day
One of the aspects of the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes that worked very well was the route itself. After disappointing many in the women’s peloton with the way it designed some of the routes for La Course, there were some concerns that it might provide a watered-down “Hell of the North.”
However, ASO delivered in 2021 with a route that honored the riders who would be racing it.
An almost identical parcours has been designed for this season with one major tweak to up the kilometers ridden. An extra 8.3km has been added to the route length to make it a total distance of 124.7km compared to last year’s 116.4km.
All of the extra kilometers have been added onto the start of the race with an additional fourth loop around Denain put in. It means that there’ll be a longer build-up before the peloton hits the opening sector of Hornaing à Wandignies after 42.3km.
It’s not much, but the extra kilometers will add some extra fatigue in the legs for the riders and allow the big teams even more opportunity to string out the bunch.
Aside from the additional lap of Denain, there is very little change from last year’s course with just over 29k of pavé to tackle. While the ratio of pavé to smooth roads has decreased ever so slightly, it still makes up just under a quarter of the total race distance.
Last year saw Lizzie Deignan get away on the opening sector of pavé and stay away all the way to the line in muddy and slippery conditions. With nobody around her, Deignan had the luxury of picking her own lines and could not be caught up in other riders’ crashes — a factor that would have played a big role in her staying away.
This year is likely to be different with cloudy but dry conditions expected for the race. It’s not to say that someone couldn’t repeat what Deignan did but it’s going to be a whole lot harder to do.
The contenders: No Deignan but lots of big contenders
Whatever happens, there will be a new winner for the second edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes with Deignan sitting out the 2022 season while she is pregnant with her second child. Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) also looks set to miss the race after finishing third last year, while 2021 fourth-place finisher Lisa Brennauer (WNT-Ceratizit) has been ruled out due to COVID-19.
Despite missing the defending champion, Trek-Segafredo still has a strong squad that can contend for the victory. European champion Ellen van Dijk will be a major favorite as will Lucinda Brand, who is making her debut at the race after skipping it last year to focus on her cyclocross season.
Elisa Balsamo had a difficult time at Paris-Roubaix in 2021, slipping in the mud and finishing some 12 minutes down. However, this race can be unpredictable, and she is definitely still a potential contender. Audrey Cordon-Ragot is also not to be counted out within this team.
After missing out to Deignan last year, Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) will like her chances a lot for this year’s race. Vos has previously said that she’s not interested in filling gaps on her palmarès, but this is a gap she would be very happy to fill.
Vos has not raced much on the road so far this season and chose to skip the defense of her Amstel Gold Race title as she builds up for this race. She’ll hope that she’ll have some extra freshness in her legs that could make the difference for victory.
Over at SD Worx, there are a plethora of potential winners from Chantal van den Broek-Blaak to Christine Majerus, but it is Lotte Kopecky that has been leading the way for the team so far this year. After winning at Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders, the Belgian is probably the top favorite set to ride.
Elsewhere in the peloton, look out for Emma Norsgaard (Movistar Team), Lorena Wiebes and Franziska Koch (Team DSM), Grace Brown and Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), Marjolein van ‘t Geloof (Le Col-Wahoo), Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ), Sarah Roy (Canyon-SRAM), Silvia Persico (Valcar-Travel & Service), and Maria Giulia Confalonieri (WNT-Ceratizit).
From Fall 2021