September 30, 2021
(Reuters) – The world’s leading female cyclists will be unleashed for the first time ever on the notorious Paris-Roubaix cobbles on Saturday as they get their chance to race the so-called Hell of the North.
In another sign that women’s professional cycling is finally gaining the iconic stages it deserves, the first ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes will roll off from Denain, close to the border with Belgium.
The peloton will then race 115.6km, with the last 85km following the same route as Sunday’s longer men’s race, including 17 of the ‘pavé’ sections and culminating inside the iconic Roubaix velodrome.
Over the years one thing is certain about the men’s race — expect the unexpected — and with wind and rain forecast for Saturday the first women’s race promises to be a classic.
“I already have goosebumps,” Germany’s Lisa Brennauer, who won gold in Tokyo as part of Germany’s team pursuit squad, said as she prepared for Saturday’s race.
“Iconic is really a word that fits this race well. It’s a brutal race that we’ve all followed many many times on television, and now we finally can take on this challenge.
“It’s a cool step for women’s cycling and I’m excited to be part of it. I’m extra motivated for this first edition.”
Organisers, ASO, took the step to add Paris-Roubaix to the women’s calendar last year but it was cancelled because of COVID-19. When they have waited so long, another 12 months has simply added to the excitement.
France’s Audrey Cordon-Ragot, who rides for the a powerful Trek-Segafredo team also including Elisa Longo Borghini, newly-crowned European champion and favourite Ellen van Dijk and Britain’s former world champion Lizzie Deignan, described it as a race for “warriors”.
“I think of the velodrome as the beating heart of Paris-Roubaix… It’s just like a Roman arena. The crowd wants to see the wild animals, and it often comes down to a small group of riders,” she told the official race website.
Dutch classics rider Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx) says it’s a race that cannot “compare to anything else”.
“You can train physically, you can prepare your equipment, you can make yourself ready mentally, because you know it’s gonna be hard, and then you have to accept that anything can happen in Paris-Roubaix,” she said.
The race starts at 1135GMT.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)
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