CLACTON, UK (VN) — Women’s cycling is progressing quickly, but its growth is sustainable, says the Paris-Roubaix Femmes champion Lizzie Deignan.
The 32-year-old was responding to a comment from Women’s Tour director Mick Bennett, who told VeloNews that he believed the UCI was developing women’s cycling too fast.
Deignan — who joined Eddy Merckx and Rik Van Looy as the only riders to win Gent-Wevelgem, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour of Flanders, and the world championships during their careers — said it was sustainable development and big steps had to be made to level up women’s cycling.
“We’ve seen sustainable change and, yes, we’re making massive leaps but that has to happen. There will be a few tired athletes next year [with more races], but we can handle it, we’re up for it,” Deignan told VeloNews ahead of the penultimate stage of the Women’s Tour.
Deignan is currently racing on home soil for the first time since the world championships in Yorkshire in 2019. She is the defending champion at the Women’s Tour, after winning it in the same year as the race has not been held for over two years.
Though it has been a busy period for the Otley rider of late, she was happy to be racing in Britain again and enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate her recent Paris-Roubaix win with home crowds. With years of little television coverage of women’s cycling, it is a refreshing change that many of the fans were able to watch her solo triumph in Northern France.
“It’s been a privilege. The crowds that have come out have been amazing, it’s been nice. It’s special that people know about it. Five years ago, I could have won a big race and they would have not known. The fact that people were able to watch and celebrate with me now has been nice,” she said.
“I think with experience, I’ve learned that people are expecting me to be able to perform always, but I’m quite happy to be here as a team player and not focus on a result for myself and try to help Chloe. Potentially, years ago I would have struggled with that, but I’ve learned that you have to celebrate and let your foot off the gas a little bit.”
Pushing Paris-Roubaix Femmes forward
The first-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes was a long time in the making with fans having to wait a year for it to happen after it was postponed twice due to COVID-19. In the end, the day went as well as — if not better — than could be imagined, with dramatic action from start to finish.
However, there were aspects that weren’t received well, such as the fact that Deignan earned €1,535 for her win while Sonny Colbrelli, the men’s champion, took home a tidy €30,000. Overall, Deignan was understandably delighted with how the day went for her, but she believes that race organizer ASO needs to continue pushing the development of the event forward.
“It would be difficult for me to be critical. I had a great time and it was really special,” Deignan laughed. “There was some criticism that we missed a couple of sectors, but I’ve said before that I think it was the right first edition.”
“I hope that it grows, and obviously, the prize money disparity is not good enough. There has been a lot of pressure from the public, which is really positive. I think it’s been a good start.”
With the first edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, many more riders were able to put it pride of place within their late-season schedules as it did not sit in the middle of other major targets. The debut edition also enticed some riders that you wouldn’t expect to see at Paris-Roubaix, such as Annemiek van Vleuten and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.
Next year, the field is likely to have a different complexion with the novelty gone out of it for some of the climbers as they seek refuge in the Ardennes. Meanwhile, others may shun the hilly races in the spring to focus on this newfound target.
There is little like Paris-Roubaix on the cycling calendar, whether that be for the men or the women. And it gave some riders that aren’t regularly in the spotlight a chance to shine.
“This is an interesting part. We’re getting more and more races on the women’s calendar and team sizes are really small,” Deignan told VeloNews. “On the men’s side, you have riders that are really able to focus on Paris-Roubaix and that will happen in women’s cycling. I think that next year there will be riders that finish their classics campaign at Paris-Roubaix rather than go onto the classics. I think it’ll only get harder to win it, so thankfully I won the first one.”
“It was really cool to see some different people in the top 10, there were some standout rides from people, like Audrey in our team. She’s a phenomenal rider and Paris-Roubaix really showcased what a teammate she is. She was in the top 10, which was really cool to see.”
With quieter roads for the women’s race last Saturday, Deignan is relishing the chance to race on the same day as the men and bring women’s cycling to spectators that might not ordinarily see it.
“It will be great, it means that we will reach more fans. There were more fans at the men’s race and it will be really great that they get to see us, too,” Deignan said.