ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Riders arrived in the velodrome caked in mud.
Sometimes, it was hard to tell where the rider ended, and the mud began. The first Paris-Roubaix Femmes was an epic, with the peloton tackling a wet and muddy contest on the first time of asking.
The historic Paris-Roubaix Femmes lived up to its moniker of the Hell of the North. Just 61 of the 129 starters finished within the time cut, with Abby-Mae Parkinson (Lotto Soudal) the final classified rider over the line.
Some 23 riders didn’t finish the race while a massive 44 completed the race, but were victims to the brutal time cut imposed on the race.
“Today the cobbles were really slippery, I think I crashed three or four times,” said third-place Elisa Longo Borghini. “I always made it back. We were told to not give up every time we had something like because Paris-Roubaix is like this, and you can always come back and have a good result.”
Everyone knew history was in the making, and the entire peloton knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
Lizzie Deignan conquered the conditions, going off the front on the first cobble sector with over 80k still to go.
It seemed like a crazy move, but Deignan was perhaps in the best place of them all, able to ride any line she wanted over the treacherous pavé and potentially crash-inducing mud.
“We were kind of prepared, but when you go onto the cobbles with a full peloton, it is totally different,” Longo Borghini said. “Because normally you do the recon with your teammates and they’re nice to you and give you your space.
“It was really a big fight with all the other riders, so you always try to be with your squad together,” she said.
Elisa Longo Borghini is happier than the actual winner. pic.twitter.com/Xeh7P0dh8D
— Cycling out of context (@OutOfCycling) October 2, 2021
Longo Borghini was by far not the only rider to have come down in at least one fall.
Deignan had a few slips and slides that could have ended in a crash had she been in the peloton. Fellow Trek-Segafredo rider, Ellen van Dijk came down hard in one fall, taking down Christine Majerus, Sarah Roy, and Aude Biannic in the process.
Second place Marianne Vos also got caught up in a spill, which also wiped out Longo Borghini, as the mud took yet more victims on a corner.
Riders could do everything possible to prepare for the conditions, but it could not prevent the cobbles from becoming an ice rink in the rainy conditions.
“It doesn’t matter how many recons you do you’ll never be prepared for it. It was going pretty well, and we had some riders up there but as soon as you break you’ve got riders going down in the mud. I was pretty timid,” Hannah Barnes, who avoided the crashes, said.
“I think it was just the mud on the sectors, it was hard to control. It didn’t matter how little pressure you put in your tires, you had no grip. You just had to be really prepared, you had to be in a good position and I just made sure I left a little bit of a gap between me and the others in front so I had time to react and avoid the carnage.”
Riders vs. cobblestones
In many one-day races, riders will climb off if there’s no chance of finishing within the time limit, but Paris-Roubaix is a race where finishing is a victory within itself.
Riding the final race of her career, Jolien D’hoore was one of those who made it to the line but won’t be classified. She was battered and bruised by the falls that she had, but she made it to the finish.
“It was a hard way to end my career with two crashes. Mentally, the race was already over with the second crash. I tried to enjoy it anyway, but it was hard. I was happy to make it to the finish,” D’hoore said.
“It was very slippery and there was a lot of mud on the cobbles. The moment you touch the breaks on the cobbles you crash. If you’re in the first 10 or 15 riders then you’re ok, but once you’re halfway down it’s really a warzone. I wished I could have done better but you can’t choose bad luck and I’m happy it’s over.”
Lisa Brennauer avoided most of the chaos, but she too had her race impacted by riders slipping in the ice-like conditions. When the key moves for the podium went, she found herself having to navigate another spill in the mud.
“Overall, I’m super happy with how it went. When I couldn’t go with Marianne Vos, I knew this was a big pity and I should have been there. I tried to save it at the end and make it on the podium. I attacked to bring back Elisa Longo Borghini and I just missed out,” Brennauer said.
“It was super muddy and slippery on the cobble sections and there were lots of crashes, also some just in front of me on the section where Marianne went. I had to go around, and I missed out on this breakaway. I did pretty well in my positioning, especially going into the sections but you had to be on for the whole race.”