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The making of a modern monument: The growth of Paris-Roubaix Femmes

Peloton braces for an ever-evolving 'Hell of the North' as teams, riders, and broadcasters adapt to the calendar's youngest classic.

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Making one of cycling’s mythical monuments takes time – the clue is in the name.

The recently born Paris-Roubaix Femmes is more than a century younger than its male cousins and still very much in its growing phase, suggests the women’s pro peloton.

The cobblestone classic provided two entirely different races in its opening two editions, from a slippery skating rink in 2021 to a sun-parched dustbowl last weekend. And every passing edition could have its own unique identity for some time yet as the peloton finds its way on the pavé.

“Obviously the weather plays a massive part, but each year the skill levels will increase and the knowledge of the parcours gets more, so it could be faster and a lot more tactical in the future,” DSM’s British champion Pfeiffer Georgi said.

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Continual refinement of equipment, knowledge, and rider-smarts could see Paris-Roubaix Femmes maturing from a baby brute into a full-fledged hot-burning hell in the coming years.

Teams took time to consider what worked in last year’s inaugural edition and worked up from there to create an aggressive, high-paced race this spring.

Trek-Segafredo was unanimous in its verdict that the new improved Domane bike put the team in the driving seat for the pavé. DSM was considering using a new tire pressure management system to give added control over the cobbles in an indication of what we might see in future editions.

“The Domane has been projected especially for Roubaix. The equipment makes a huge difference,” Longo Borghini said.

“We are testing the equipment during the winter, in terms of performing the best in this race … Trek is trying to get us on the best bike ever. And I think they did. Honestly, I think the Domane is the perfect bike for Roubaix.”

Improved weather before the start of this year’s race meant recons were longer and more thorough, and every detail was dialed.

A test of staying upright in the peloton’s first foray onto the cobblestones last year became a full-throttle pavé pummeling Saturday as the peloton put previous lessons into play.

“For the women, I think people will have learned something from last year to improve how they’re going to prepare, so I think we’ll see an increase in professionalism,” Alison Jackson said ahead of the race Saturday.

The more times the bunch sees the cobbles, the more it grows to understand the unique demands of a race like Roubaix.

“Last year I missed the recon so the first time I saw the sectors was in the race. This year I felt like I was coming into it with a lot more knowledge, also about where you can ride the gutter and which line to take,” Georgi said. “This year I felt like I was coming into it with a lot more knowledge also about where you can ride the gutter and the best lines, so I felt like I was going into it with a lot more confidence and feeling a lot more powerful on the cobbles.”

The coverage question

More is more as far as TV coverage is concerned.

The arrival of sponsor Zwift and bump in prize monies in 2022 made for a major move in the mechanics behind Paris-Roubaix Femmes. Hand-in-hand with that came an expanded three-hour broadcast that covered the majority of the live racing.

While the pumped-up prize purse puts Paris-Roubaix on par with the women’s Tour of Flanders, the two cobblestone monuments chose their own paths for coverage models.

Also read: Paris-Roubaix Femmes multiplies prize purse

De Ronde follows Flanders Classics’ model of running women’s finishes in the hours immediately after the men’s race, ensuring a spectacular all-dayer for fans lining the roads and slouched on the couch. It was a move that more than paid off – the women’s Tour of Flanders was reportedly watched by some 750,000 Flemish viewers alone.

ASO keeps the men’s and women’s races separate, offering each race its own separate space – like last year, Paris-Roubaix Femmes came Saturday with the men following Sunday.

Which model works best?

Intriguingly, the prestige of a separate slot on the calendar isn’t the automatic answer.

Ahead of Paris-Roubaix Femmes last weekend, the half-dozen pros that were asked for opinions differed in outlook. Sarah Roy was one that opted for what may seem the less obvious answer.

“I think I’d prefer it to be on the same day,” she said. “It’s really cool at Flanders how a lot of people come for the men’s race. We have a load of people come specifically for the women’s race which is really cool, but we’re gaining extra interest from the people that are already there.”

One sentiment that did seem to be shared however was that coverage needed to be extended and extensive to keep the momentum of a rapidly progressing sport.

“For the interests of the fans and for the interests of the sport, as long as we get to see the full story, then … yeh,” Alison Jackson said. “Already the crowds here are awesome, if you love bike racing you’re going to love to watch it, whether it’s a men’s race or a women’s race.”

Paris-Roubaix Femmes is just two years into its monument journey. It’s got plenty of time to iron out every kink in the century to come.