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Paris-Roubaix Femmes preview: everything you need to know before Saturday

And some things you probably didn't need to know.

Up close and personal with the cobbles and Lotte Kopecky at the 2022 edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes. (Photo © Gruber Images)

The third edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift is finally here. We’ve already seen a few incredible races this season and Paris-Roubaix Femmes will be a fitting end to the cobbled Classics before the women gear up for the Ardennes and stage-race season. It feels like the last few months have been building to Saturday’s race, the perfect conditions for the peloton to take on the one team that has dominated the calendar so far.

That, of course, would be SD Worx, which has won five of the seven European one-day events in 2023; ahead of Paris-Roubaix Femmes, they still look unbeatable. But other teams are starting to catch up. Team DSM won one race with their promising British rider Pfeiffer Georgi, and Trek-Segafredo won another with cyclocross star Shirin van Anrooij.

Can Canyon-SRAM, FDJ-Suez and the rest of the Women’s WorldTour teams finally take down the Dutch super-squad on the brutal pavè of the Hell of the North?

At least one of two things will end on Saturday: Trek-Segafredo’s Paris-Roubaix winning streak or SD Worx’s dominance.

The Route

The ASO tacked on a few kilometres to the 2022 edition of the race, so the women will complete a total of 145 kilometres in 2023. Just like the first two editions the race contains 17 cobbled sectors, including two rated five-stars, Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre. In all the women will race across 29.2 km of pavè.

The first cobbled sector Hornaing to Wandignies is roughly 64 km into the race. It’s also one of the longer sections at 3.7 km and is rated four stars, but the crucial factor here is that there is an additional circuit around Denain before the women hit the cobbles. In previous editions it’s been easy for the peloton to monitor an early break because there was barely any road before the race started to get tricky, but this year there is time enough for a break to get a head start on the pavè.

The next two sectors are both 2.4 km, Warlaing to Brillon, a three-star sector, and Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières, four-stars, and will keep the racing spicy before a few shorter sectors.

About 54 km to go the women finally hit Auchy-lez-Orchies to Bersée, a 2.7 km four-star sector that acts as the prelude to the first five-star Mons-en-Pévèle with 48 km to go. A few one and two-star sectors separate it from the four-star, 1.8 km long Camphin-en-Pévèle sector.

Near the end of the race is the dreaded Carrefour de l’Arbre. Both editions prior were won with solo moves that went before the Carrefour de l’Arbre, so the winners were able to take on this five-star sector alone.

Once Carrefour de l’Arbre is done it’s only 15 km and three more sectors, two two-stars and a one-star, respectively, to the finish.

The Favourites

As mentioned above SD Worx has won five of the seven one-day events in Europe this year, with four different riders to boot. So when it comes to Paris-Roubaix Femmes on Saturday they go in as the favourites. Lotte Kopecky, the recent winner of the Tour of Flanders, is the team’s top contender, but Lorena Wiebes, winner of Ronde van Drenthe earlier in the season and Scheldeprijs on Wednesday, is another potential card for the Dutch team.

Lotte Kopecky races over the cobbles at the 2022 edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes. (Photo © Gruber Images)

Interestingly, they have decided to sit out Gent-Wevelgem winner Marlen Reusser, who would have been another top pick.

Kopecky could either win from a small group – she’s a seasoned track rider after all – or solo like she won both Flanders and Omloop het Nieuwsblad. Wiebes is nearly unbeatable in a sprint.

Elisa Longo Borghini wins Tre Valli Varesine Women’s Race 2022. (Photo © Cor Vos)

The defending champions Trek-Segafredo will start with 2022 Paris-Roubaix Femmes winner Elisa Longo Borghini, and although the Italian rider is coming back from a nasty case of COVID-19, her third-place result at Flanders puts her on the watchlist for Saturday. Her teammate, former world champion and current Italian national champion Elisa Balsamo is another favourite, as is last year’s runner-up Lucinda Brand. With that depth, they can challenge SD Worx here on equal footing.

The G.O.A.T. Marianne Vos will line up for her Jumbo-Visma team and is a bit of an unknown, but she makes the list of favourites because she is Marianne Vos and she has and can win pretty much everything. Vos was targeting Paris-Roubaix Femmes in 2022 but tested positive for COVID-19 the morning of the race and was forced to withdraw. Her start to this season was late due to injury, but she has been slowly building her form and had some good moments at both Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Dwars door Vlaanderen where she finished third.

Marianne Vos during the 2023 edition of Dwars door Vlaanderen. (Photo © Cor Vos)

Finally, the trio from Team DSM – Charlotte Kool, Megan Jastrab, and Pfeiffer Georgi – have all proven in the Classics this year that they deserve to be watched, and closely. Kool has challenged Wiebes in quite a few sprints this year and recently finished second behind her former teammate at Scheldeprijs, while Jastrab finished second behind a solo Reusser at Gent-Wevelgem and fourth at Classic Brugge-De Panne.

Pfeiffer Georgi and Megan Jastrab in the breakaway at Classic Brugge – De Panne. (Photo © Cor Vos)

Georgi, who has been chipping away at a big result for some time, finally took her first WorldTour win at Classic Brugge-De Panne in March.

Other riders to keep an eye on: Maike van der Duin and Shari Bossuyt (Canyon-SRAM), Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez), Arlenis Sierra (Movistar), Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ), and Alison Jackson (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB).

Maike Van Der Duin in the UCI best young rider classification jersey after Classic Brugge – De Panne. (Photo © Cor Vos)

Conversations with the Wheel Talk Podcast

Abby Mickey Skujina: The first two editions of Paris-Roubaix Femmes ended with a solo winner, what are the chances we see a small group come to the line on Saturday?

Gracie Elvin: If it was miserable weather then a high chance of a solo winner. But if the weather is good then good chance there’s a small group (with at least 2 SD Worx?!). Would love to see a 2-5 rider sprint on the track. But no matter the weather, it would be a solo SD Worx rider instead of Trek-Segafredo.

AM: It looks like good weather but some rain in the days before. So ya it might finally be a sprint on the track.

Loren Rowney: Which sectors do we think will be the defining moment for a split to happen? Elisa went with 30 or 40 km to go last year?

GEB: I’d say much later than that this time. Can’t imagine a solo rider will be allowed to go that far this year?

AMS: Ya good question. I think the Carrefour de l’Arbre will play a bigger role in the race.

LR: Unless there is chaos in the back, and an unorganised chase. Which is always possible on this course. If SDW has numbers going into that sector 🧨.

GE: Who can control it anyway if SD Worx just go?

AMS: No one! That’s the problem at the moment isn’t it? Chatting with Alison Jackson she said the opening circuit might change the dynamics this year. Maybe an early break can get a head start and we would see someone in it get a result.

LR: Get riders up the road to support deeper into the race, that could be key.

Matt de Neef: I feel like if we’d seen any sort of cooperation in group two this season the conversation might be different. If DSM, Canyon-SRAM, Jumbo etc. actually worked together, it might change the dynamics and wouldn’t feel like SD Worx’s race to lose.

GE: Agreed. Will they ever work together?

MdN: If they want to win bike races they are going to have to!

LR: As I’ve said before. You need a more authoritative figure in the peloton to be in that group to help with the organisation.

AMS: And that figure needs to not be on SD Worx.

LR: Vos?

AMS: I don’t think she’s loud enough…😅

MdN: Riders will listen to her though right? If the GOAT says you gotta chase, you should probably think about chasing.

LR: 100%.

AMS: Ok so in light of the current state of women’s cycling I think we do heart and head picks.

Wheel Talk Podcast picks

As always picks are listed in order of how they were made. A head pick is off the table once someone has chosen them but heart picks can be doubled.

Abby: Head – Lotte Kopecky. Heart – Marianne Vos

Loren: Head – Grace Brown. Heart – Marianne Vos

Matt: Head – Marianne Vos. Heart – Elisa Longo Borghini (after her comeback from COVID and bossing the last two races)

Gracie: Head – Elisa Balsamo. Heart – Grace Brown

What you didn’t know you need to know

Roubaix is a quiet little town right on the Belgian border in the Lille metropolitan area of Northern France. It’s home to the Roubaix Velodrome, where the women’s race will finish on Saturday and then the men’s Sunday.

Next to the velodrome, Roubaix boasts an interesting collection of buildings and was known for its art and architecture in the 19th century thanks to the Industrial Revolution. Historical monuments around the city include the École nationale supérieure des arts et industries textiles building, or ENSAIT; the Huchon water tower; the Barbieux health centre; and a handful of notable private houses like the Prouvost Private mansion, the art nouveau house, and Rèmy Cogghe’s house.

According to Roubaix tourist information watching Paris-Roubaix is only seventh on the list of reasons to visit the city. The first reason is La Piscine Museum, a 1930s swimming pool that was later converted into an art museum.

The city of Roubaix has collected works of art from paintings to ceramics since 1861. Prior to the collection finding a place to live in La Piscine, it was kept in the ENSAIT building (there’s a bit of history about them being stored in the Roubaix museum that was decommissioned by France after it was liberated post-World War II but I don’t need to get into that).

Now, visitors can walk what used to be a swimming pool lined with sculptures and overlooked by an absolutely stunning stained glass window. Roubaix’s main export during the Industrial Revolution was textiles and La Piscine Museum exhibits samples from the textile industry dating back to 1835, including fabrics from Ancient Egypt and works by the Japanese-French painter Tsugouharu Foujita, Picasso, and more.

The museum is a 3.6 km walk from the Roubaix Velodrome, but if you happen to be in downtown Roubaix it’s to the west of the city centre, 550 meters from the main train station.

When to tune in

The race starts at 13:45 CEST on Saturday, April 8th, with live coverage on GCN+ starting just an hour and 15 minutes later. With the additional kilometres at the start of the race, this means we might just be able to tune in before the first cobbled sector, a first for the women’s event.

At 15:00 CEST head on over to GCN+ if you’re in Europe, catch Wheel Talk Podcast co-host Gracie Elvin commentating on SBS in Australia and if you’re in the United States you can find the race live on Peacock Premium.

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