Lizzie Deignan proved to be the class of the field in the first-ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes as she held off Marianne Vos to take victory at the Vélodrome André-Pétrieux after a gruelling 116km of racing across the famous cobbles.
Cycling’s elite female riders have had to wait a long time for a crack at the pavé and faced a unique challenge as the devil had left the tap on in a delayed “Hell of the North”. Deignan took a stunning solo victory as Vos’s chase proved in vain as the Yorkshirewoman ultimately showed a greater mastery of the conditions.
“I just feel so incredibly proud. Women’s cycling is at a turning point and today is part of history and I’m proud to be part of a team that makes history,” Deignan told Eurosport post-race. “I’m so grateful to all of the viewers because every fan watching is also making history. It proves that there is 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.”
The Briton also revealed that she was not the designated lead rider for a Trek–Segafredo team, who also saw the Italian Elisa Longo Borghini finish third to join Deignan on the podium. “That really wasn’t the plan [for the race],” she added. “I needed to be at the front for the first cobble section to protect my leaders today as I was kind of the third rider. I looked behind me after the first cobbles and there was a gap. I thought at least if I’m at the front they have to chase me, so I just kept going.”
Deignan broke away with around 79km to go, on the first cobbled sector, Hornaing à Wandignies, and quickly established a two-minute lead on the chasers.
With the rain starting to fall, the cobbles became even more treacherous. The traditional dust which usually coats the men as they plough through northern France was not a factor; instead the women had to negate a patchwork of muddy puddles scattered across the pavé.
There were several crashes as the peloton tried to chase down Deignan. Ellen van Dijk, who likely came into the race as Trek–Segafredo’s lead rider, hit the deck twice and new world champion Elisa Balsamo also got an up close look at the dirt.
Despite Deignan’s lead topping two and half minutes at one stage, she still had to draw on all of her bike-handling skills to plot a path through the cobbles. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Emma Norsgaard and Vos in the chasing group behind struggled to get a cohesive effort going, until the 34-year-old Dutch legend broke away in pursuit.
Vos gritted her teeth as she tried to chase down Deignan, but after initially wiping out almost a minute, the Briton was able to hold off her great rival as the kilometres tumbled away.