Rounding out the podium, we saw Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) chase in for an impressive second ahead of Deignan’s teammate Elisa Longo Borghini who took third. It was a wet and muddy affair, and in addition to the queen of British cycling’s decisive win, there was plenty of action to enjoy. Attacks and counterattacks, wipeouts, drama, and dropped riders all fueled the inaugural performance by the women. Let’s take a closer look at how it all went down.
— Paris-Roubaix (@Paris_Roubaix) October 4, 2021
The race began in Denain, south of Roubaix, from where the peloton raced 116 km before finishing at the famous Vélodrome André-Pétrieux in Roubaix. The course featured 17 sectors of cobbled roads with the pavé beginning after just 20km of racing. The women’s route included the famous five-star sectors Mons-en-Pévèle and the Carrefour de l’Arbre. The cobbles accounted for around 30km of the race route, meaning a quarter of the action took place on the famous stones of northern France. So although the peloton did not take on the famed Arenberg Forest—which serves as the traditional opening stretch in the men’s race—there is no doubt that they were faced with a highly challenging course.
How the women tackled it
The race got off to a predictably feisty start with a strong first lap of the Denain circuit, during which the peloton remained together. Attacks starting coming in hot, though, before the first cobbled sector from Hornaing to Wandignies saw a few attempts reeled back. At this point, Deignan decided to go for it and managed to put distance between herself and the chasing field.
With 50km remaining on the five-star Mons-en-Pévèle sector, she had expanded her lead to two minutes, with the field behind her further reducing to under 30 riders. Set back by crashes and punctures, many pre-race favourites—including Ellen van Dijk, Belgian national champion Lotte Kopecky, and the new World Champion, Elisa Balsamo—were out of the running.
It was clear to the others that it was now or never. A sense of urgency prompted a group consisting of Vos, Majerus, Cordon-Ragot, Brennauer, Biannic and Bastianelli to hit the pursuit. A few other riders managed to join the second-place pack, and with a renewed confidence in the chase, they were able to make some gains on Deignan’s advantage. With the uptick in energy, Vos saw that her best chance of success was to go at it alone, and by the time she reached the Carrefour de l’Arbre, she was just over 1:30 in arrears.
Deignan sails to victory
Ultimately, though, with rain turning some sectors into treacherous mud puddles, Deignan’s early strategy of going solo paid off. Her independent march meant that she was among the few riders who could avoid crashing. Vos and Longo Borghini, meanwhile, each fell at least once.
Claiming the title of queen of the cobbles, Deignan was indisputably the strongest rider of the day. Even a mechanical suffered by the Trek-Segafredo team car wasn’t enough to diminish her commanding victory. She entered the famed velodrome, crossed the line, and raised her bloody hands in the air to claim an historic win.
A winning statement
After the race, Deignan commented: “I just feel so incredibly proud. Women’s cycling is at a turning point and it’s part of history. I’m also proud to be part of a team that also makes history. We’re so grateful to everyone behind the scenes, all the viewers watching, every fan watching is also making history. It proves there’s an appetite for women’s cycling and the athletes here can do one of the hardest races in the world. I’m so proud I can say I’m the first-ever winner. That was really not the plan. I needed to be at the front in the first cobble section to protect my leaders. Actually today, I was kind of the third rider… I looked behind after the first cobbles, and I thought at least if I’m in the front they have to chase me, so I just kept going.”
Indeed, it cannot be understated what a critical moment this first women’s Paris-Roubaix was for the sport. The women more than proved they can handle the challenge posed by the jarring cobblestones and didn’t bat an eye when confronted with the inevitable crashes that awaited them.
Lizzie Deignan’s heroic 80+ kilometre solo attack was as inspirational as any victories the great sport of cycling has seen, and she has added another entry under her name that is already firmly etched into the history books. We congratulate the British star on a truly spectacular win and look forward to seeing the women’s peloton take on more iconic races (including next year’s Tour de France) in the future!