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Lizzie Deignan on Paris-Roubaix Femmes triumph: ‘We are part of history now, there’s no going back’

Deignan won the first-ever Pairs-Roubaix Femmes with a stunning 80km solo fitting for a monumental day for the sport.

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ROUBAIX, France (VN) – If you’re going to make history, do it in a style suitable for the history books.

Lizzie Deignan hit out on the very first sector of pavé ever to be raced by the women’s peloton and rode solo for two hours to win the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes on Saturday.

It was a cobble-crushing ride more than fit for the monumental occasion, but one that was never the plan – Trek Segafredo had initially slated Deignan’s teammates Elisa Longo Borgini and Ellen van Dijk for team leadership.

“It was completely surreal. This morning, I was here as a teammate. I never considered or dreamt about winning the race myself,” Deignan told the press after her ride.

“To find myself in a position where I was solo, after such a big effort was an incredibly special moment. I think with experience you learn these moments don’t happen that often in your career, and I really cherished that that last lap of the velodrome.”

An 80-kilometer solo is an experience that few rides are able to savor. Deignan recognized that to do so at a race that has provoked such a swell of attention through both the cycling and wider sporting world took her victory far beyond the norm.

“I’ve not had much chance to think about it yet, but one of the best,” Deignan said of where the race ranks in a palmarès that includes a world title and victories at Liège Bastogne Liège, Tour of Flanders and the Women’s Tour.

“I mean, I suppose in men’s cycling Paris-Roubaix is classed as a monument and we are becoming more and more professional and gaining new iconic races … to be able to be the first winner of such an important race is definitely up there.”

We are part of history now … there’s no going back

Although Deignan spoke of the increased professionalization of women’s racing and the increasing attention it is receiving in what is her 15th pro season, the lurking question of parity in prize money gave the 32-year-old pause.

The prize pot of €7,005 for Saturday’s women’s race pales in comparison to the €91,000 available for the men Sunday. As far as Deignan is concerned, it’s got to be a case of one step at a time.

“Obviously, the first step is that we have a Paris-Roubaix. And I think that’s a huge step forward. And I’m very grateful that I get to be part of this history that is being banded around. We are part of history now, and there’s no going back, and I think that’s incredibly important,” she said.

“Obviously, the prize money is disappointing, but I think it’s a nice moment to point out what my team Trek-Segafredo is doing. They’ve been equaling the prize money to the male equivalent races that we’ve been doing, not just at this race, but the whole season. It takes initiatives like that kind of support from sponsors and brands to push the boundaries and each aspect like that we need to keep pushing, we’re not there yet.

“But we’re not being silent about it anymore. I think that’s important.”

Safer, solo

Deignan has pushed into the lead of the race Saturday on the curtain-raising Hornaing à Wandignies sector of cobbles almost by mistake. The 32-year-old was one of the first of the peloton to hit the opening cobblestone sector as she worked for van Dijk and Longo Borghini. By the end of the 3.7km cobblestone strip, Deignan was on the way to victory.

“I took some speed into the first sector because I really had to sprint to be there,” she said. “I took that speed onto the cobbles and actually I looked behind me at the end of the cobbles and I had a gap … I thought as long as I’m in front they have to chase behind. So I kind of ride about 75 percent until I got about a minute and then I got the phone in the radio that I had to go 100 percent.”

Deignan built a gap of more than two minutes after she had ridden clear at 82.5km to go, rectifiying several slips and tailslides through the greasy cobblestones as she went. Behind her, handfuls of riders piled to the floor as the rain caused chaos on the already slippery stones.

Being out front alone gave Deignan a huge upper-hand as the race descended into chaos behind.

“I knew it would be worse for the group. I knew I had an advantage being alone and able to pick the lines. It was incredibly muddy in some sections,” she said. “And you know, I’m not a cyclocrosser, I don’t have much experience in muddy conditions. So I took a couple of tips from my teammate, Lucinda Brand, she said, ‘Whatever you do, just keep pedaling.'”

Deignan didn’t stop pedaling until she hit the velodrome Saturday. And like Deignan, the women’s peloton won’t stop moving either. The next Paris-Roubaix Femmes comes in just six months, and hot on its heels is the Women’s Tour de France in the summer.

History has been written, and will keep being rewritten some time yet.