Before the third edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift, Alison Jackson predicted that the course change to add more kilometers prior to the first section of cobbles might produce a different finish than the first two years, when a solo rider from a late breakaway won.
“In the men’s race, you have that early break that can go quite a long way,” she told Escape Collective. “We couldn’t play that tactic in the women’s race because it was so short and so fast. The peloton would never settle down enough for a break to get away before the cobbles. It’s going to be raced differently this year.”
Not only was she exactly right, but what emerged was nothing less than the veteran racer from EF Education-Tibco-SVB herself being the protagonist who made the race. Just 15 km in, Jackson jumped in the day’s early break with 17 other riders. “In a race like this you need to avoid bad luck,” said Jackson of the team’s aggressive early strategy. “When the move went I was waiting.”
Behind, attacks and race-changing crashes were happening as pre-race favorite Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) forced an elite split with 51km to go on the Auchy-les-Orchies à Bersées cobbles, with defending champion Elisa Longo Borghini and Lucinda Brand of Trek-Segafredo, and Team DSM’s Pfeiffer Georgi, among others. The group was steading chipping away at the gap when it came to grief just 15 km later when Longo Borghini fishtailed into a crash while leading on a mud-slicked section of cobbles at Templeuve and took down most of the chase.
Although the chase would eventually reform as a larger group, the chaos and disorganization was all the opportunity the break needed. Exiting the crucial Carrefour de l’Arbe sector, Jackson pushed the pace in a rapidly dwindling front group whose lead over the chase shrank to as little as 10 seconds.
Jackson almost singlehandedly kept the move clear of the chase in the closing kilometers, turning around several times to motion to the others to pull through. “I wanted to ride the final,” she said. “Only about four of the seven of us wanted to ride, and [I felt] you ride hard and maybe you had a chance. I trusted myself.”
Into the velodrome, the septet held such a slim lead that tactics and positioning went almost by the wayside. A touch of bikes sent Femke Markus (SD Worx) to the ground, and when Marion Borras (St Michel – Mavic – Auber 93) opened her sprint, Jackson was alert and close on her wheel to come around at the line. It’s a career-making victory for the 34-year-old Jackson and her team, and the emotions ran strong at the finish. Jackson had many dreams for herself as a racer, she said as a tear rolled down her face, “and a lot of times those dreams stayed dreams. It’s unreal for this to happen in real life.”
Stick with us, we’ll be back with a more complete race update and much more coverage of the 3rd Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift shortly.