How improbable was Lizzie Deignan’s victory in the inaugural running of the Women’s Paris-Roubaix earlier today? Somewhere short of the Olympic road race victory this summer by Anna Kiesenhofer, but not much less. Deignan, in post-race comments, says that not only was her 82km solo effort unplanned, she wasn’t even the team leader. In fact, she got on the front to try to do something useful after noting that her actual team leaders, Elisa Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk, were struggling with the cobbles. She blasted onto the stones at the Hornaing-Wandignies secteur, riding hard on the front as so many do out of self-preservation, but quickly found she had a gap and decided it wouldn’t hurt to keep it going. Eventually she figured out that she had a real chance to stay away. And ultimately, she profited from near perfect conditions. The strong tailwind meant that the race was effectively shortened, as far as energy usage is concerned. And being alone not only helps a rider simplify their choices (compared to the gamesmanship that so often unfolds in their wake), but also gave her a clean look at the best lines on the cobbles.
That proved to be a major advantage. On the Camphin-en-Pévèle secteur, the muddy stones got treacherous indeed, as first Deignan lost the crown, sliding off it to the left before fishtailing back to the right and holding it together. Two-plus minutes later the elite chasers arrived, and had the same experience — but with no room to maneuver defensively, riders just keeled over instead. First van Dijk, who fell very heavily on her side but was miraculously unharmed, then Christine Majerus and others ended up on the floor. The next photo of Vos shows the crown I’m talking about. Off-camber slopes are not your friend when you are moving slick 110psi tires over wet stones.
Marianne Vos had finally had enough of this nonsense and sped off in pursuit of Deignan, with a few secteurs remaining and more than two minutes to recoup. Longo Borghini followed, but looked very shaky on the cobbles as the trio of soloists reached the Carrefour de l’Arbe stones. Vos flew over them like the off-road champion she is, and did pull back a minute on Deignan, but with the tailwind in play there simply was not enough road left.
Vos acknowledged the error in leaving the chase too late, though you have to think that an attack that wasn’t even meant to happen is a bit more convincing of its benign nature than one where the attacker actually believes in what they are doing. Of course, Deignan did eventually believe in her haphazard race plan, and certainly she was always a rider to take very seriously, but by the time this became obvious to all it was a bit late to do anything short of a coordinated show of force. And we all know how coordinated chase groups tend to be.
- Elizabeth Deignan (GBr) Trek-Segafredo, 2:56:07
- Marianne Vos (Ned) Jumbo-Visma Women Team, at 1:17
- Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 1:47
- Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling Team, at 1:51
- Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Ale’ BTC Ljubljana, at 2:10
- Emma Norsgaard (Den) Movistar Team Women, s.t.
- Franziska Koch (Ger) Team DSM, s.t.
- Audrey Cordon Ragot (Fra) Trek-Segafredo, s.t.
- Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, s.t.
- Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Ned) Team SD Worx, s.t.
- Christine Majerus (Lux) Team SD Worx, at 3:03
- Leah Thomas (USA) Movistar Team Women, s.t.
- Maria Van ‘T Geloof (Ned) Drops-le Col Supported by Tempur, s.t.
- Amy Pieters (Ned) Team SD Worx, at 4:26
- Lotte Kopecky (Bel) Liv Racing, at 4:33
- Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, s.t.
- Teuntje Beekhuis (Ned) Jumbo-Visma Women Team, at 4:36
- Romy Kasper (Ger) Jumbo-Visma Women Team, at 4:41
- Maria Martins (Por) Drops-le Col Supported by Tempur, at 5:55
- Lucie Jounier (Fra) Arkea Pro Cycling Team, s.t.