So close, and yet so far.
After suffering the disappointment of postponement and then cancellation last October, it almost feels cruel that the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix is ripped from our grasp again.
History should have been made this weekend, but COVID-19 had other plans for the third time inside of 12 months.
We’ve been waiting since 1896 for a women’s edition, what’s another six months between friends?
That a women’s Roubaix is even due to happen — postponed or not — feels like something special.
With a women’s Tour de France also penciled in for the 2022 season, it shows just how much momentum is behind the sport. Five years ago, it would have been hard to imagine that a women’s Roubaix would even be in the cards.
I have been watching Paris-Roubaix for as long as I can remember, and I have been to five of the last six. There is something special about the “Hell of the North” that few races on the cycling calendar can match — cobbles the size of a small child, dust (sometimes mud) flying everywhere, and unpredictable racing from start to finish.
There’s also an intangible aura around the event. I remember the first time I stepped into the center of the unassuming outdoor track in Roubaix.
My heart was beating with excitement, and I felt like a kid at Christmas.
Despite my love for the race, it has often felt like a men’s only club when it comes to competitors (not that there were many female journalists in the press room but that’s a different battle).
Even as women’s cycling has grown inexorably over the last few years, the Paris-Roubaix pavé always seemed just out of reach. Surely women, with their delicate dispositions, wouldn’t be able to handle the brutality of cycling’s toughest cobbles.
Well, everyone who might have believed that is about to find out how wrong they are.
Bring it on
I first heard a rumor of a women’s race was in the pipeline in the build-up to the 2019 event.
A few days later, bike brand Specialized signaled its desire for one when it released its latest Roubaix model with an evocative advert featuring the Anna van der Breggen, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, and Christine Majerus with the tag line, “the Roubaix is no longer just for men; the race shouldn’t be either”.
With the pressure of one of the biggest bike suppliers in the peloton, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before organizer ASO would finally bow to the pressure, though it would only appear as a surprise “Easter egg” in the 2020 calendar.
I love that women’s cycling has a broad level of autonomy from the men’s side of the sport.
Not all teams must be connected to a men’s squad and not all races need to be held in conjunction with a men’s race. Indeed, there are teams and races that exist solely within the universe of women’s cycling, such as the superlative SD Worx squad and the exciting Trofeo Alfredo Binda, to name just a couple of examples.
Some races are too amazing for the men to keep to themselves, however.
It will be a huge moment when the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix does finally roll out, and I for one can’t wait for it.
There is also a small silver lining in the delay with the women’s race getting a whole day to itself, rather than battling for visibility alongside the men’s event.
Bring on October!