A less messy affair
After the show-stopping, mud-ridden, rain-soaked madness of last year’s event, won in genuinely stunning fashion by Lizzie Deignan, this year’s participants had big shoes to fill. The “Hell of the North” is the darling of the Spring Classics because of its unruly pavé and unpredictable racing. And although we didn’t get the added drama of a torrential downpour for this instalment, there was still plenty to get excited about.
The 124.7-kilometre (longer than last year’s 115km) event started in Denain with four local laps. The route did not include the famed Trouée d’Arenberg of the men’s race route, but the women’s peloton did tackle 17 sectors for 29.2km of cobbles. Two are rated five-star difficulty: Mons-en-Pévèle at the 49km mark, and the Carrefour de l’Arbre with 17km left to go in the race.
World champion disqualified
Near Sector 12, Auchy-lez-Orchies à Bersée, World Champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) punctured, almost crashed on her chase back, and was then swfitly disqualified after she took a sticky bottle from her team car while attempting to get back in the game.
This was no doubt a devastating blow for Balsamo, who had entered Paris-Roubaix among the favourites for victory. She has had a very impressive spring run, taking wins at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem.
“It hurts to finish as runner-up.”
Yet even the second place finisher wasn’t satisfied with the outcome. After winning Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders in quick succession, Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) was another top pick to take home the women’s title in Roubaix. Yet, despite an aggressive ride, she was unable to match Elisa Longo Borghini’s strength and be crowned queen.
After launching an attack with 50km to go, Kopecky found herself in a breakaway group containing Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) and Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo). It was when this was brought back, though, that Borghini made her winning move.
“I tried something here to put the other teams under pressure,” Kopecky said of her choice to make a move when she did. “But others were not cooperating 100 per cent. So I tried to keep the gap, but didn’t put too much work in it, to save the legs.
“My Spring season was great, but it hurts to finish as runner-up. It’s nice to be on the podium of Paris-Roubaix, but now I’m disappointed because I felt quite good,” Lotte Kopecky said following the race. And when asked if it felt like a missed opportunity, she conceeded. “Maybe, it is, but there are more chances to come. I’m sure that during the upcoming years I’ll come close or maybe get the victory,” Kopecky said.
Determination throughout the peloton
As always, though, there was plenty to admire in the peloton beyond those who finished on the podium. One such case being the remarkable perseverance of Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope). After her surprise win in the Amstel Gold Race the previous weekend, the 24-year-old Italian powered through a crash and a puncture to still manage to come in fifth place.
“I had one crash, and later, I had a puncture. But I was lucky to be able to come back to the first bunch, and I pushed hard in order to honour and celebrate this race,” Cavalli said at the finish.
Another milestone for women’s cycling
All in all, the race was another triumph for women’s cycling—prize purse included. Following some pretty stiff criticism last year, after offering €91,000 for men vs €7,005 for women, organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) bumped the women’s prize purse up to $50,000. That means Elisa Longo Borghini took home €20,000, versus the €1,535 Deignan won last year. This was a welcome change, no doubt.
In addition to the more adequate prize purse, the Italian winner was also pleased to see more media attention on women’s racing, especially as she said, the race was “intense and nice, and ridden from the beginning”.
“I’m really looking forward to the upcoming races, especially the Tour de France,” she continued. “I always try to say that Tour de France is returning, we don’t have to forget history. It’s back because there have been many women riding in the past, and we are thankful to them because they made history.”