‘So close they could almost touch them’ – the Paris-Roubaix chase that almost made the catch

Big crashes, a huge break, and a complicated chase resulted in a fantastic race.

Hard landings: Shari Bossuyt (Canyon-SRAM) and Elynor Bäckstedt (Trek-Segafredo) hit the deck in one of several big crashes that disrupted Paris-Roubaix Femmes. (Photo © Kramon)

“It was a good bike race,” Trek-Segafredo sports director Ina Teutenberg said outside the velodrome, before adding a disclaimer: “Good to watch on TV.”

The squad, along with fellow heavy hitters SD Worx, had just been forced to walk away from Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift empty handed following a masterclass in breakaway racing and gambling everything on a sprint.

It wasn’t for lack of a chase, yet the strong pursuit was hampered by a number of factors: a large gap given away early in the race, the big teams getting locked in a staring competition, and then a huge crash that halted progress just as the escapees were being reeled in.

“I think we were in the perfect position with Daniek [Hengeveld] in the break, exactly as planned,” DSM sports director Kelvin Dekker told Escape Collective. “And I think the group that went up the road was a perfect group, 18 riders, all different teams, all big teams, and they got almost six minutes, that was crazy. That’s something we didn’t anticipate.”

When that large group split off the front just 15 km in, the peloton barely reacted, while the cooperation in the break was excellent. “There were 18 riders all thinking they can do something,” Dekker continued.

“For us at that moment that was really good. Everyone is looking at SD Worx and that’s normal, and then it was a bit of a battle between Trek-Segafredo and SD Worx and in the end they didn’t do anything until we started the sectors.”

Eventually, as the gap began to look problematic for the peloton, and even with Trek-Segafredo’s Lucinda Brand believing they were already too far ahead to be caught, the chase begun and the breakaway’s advantage started to fall.

Then, pre-race favourite Lotte Kopecky made her move, thinning out the bunch and taking the strongest riders with her, including the Trek duo of Brand and defending champion Elisa Longo Borghini and Team DSM’s Pfeiffer Georgi. Further up front, Georgi’s teammate Hengeveld hit out from the front of the race, hoping to whittle her own group down and press the issue, although no one was willing to comply.

Across the cobbles, Longo Borghini slipped one way and then another before coming crashing down and taking the whole group with her bar Romy Kasper of AG Insurance, who somehow managed to slide by unscathed.

Defending champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo and shown here on her teammate Elisa Balsamo’s bike) fishtailed in a muddy patch while leading the chase and went down hard, taking a number of riders with her. (Photo © Kramon)

“It’s the third big race in a row where a crash influences the race in such a big way, it’s a bit disappointing,” Dekker explained. “It took 30 or 40 seconds away and that’s why we came up short in the end.”

The chase soon resumed in earnest, the stakes even higher now. Hengeveld dropped back to assist the group in service to Georgi, who brought the two groups so close together that “they could almost touch them,” said Dekker.

“It came down to 10 seconds, Daniek [Hengeveld] did everything she could, brought it back down from 35 seconds to 10 and then she was done right before the sector,” Dekker continued.

“I think there again they have a small moment [of hesitation] and then … that’s something you see a lot, people don’t ride. SD Worx were playing a bit at the front not riding and at the back not riding, it’s their right. And other teams [put in] some good attacks and we came closer again, an attack like Elisa Longo Borghini did uphill takes so much energy out from everyone, it’s hard.

“Afterwards you can say [why doesn’t] everyone just work together and get there but that’s not how cycling works unfortunately. Then you hope that in the front they will look at each other but with two to three km to go some riders decided they just want to stay in front and if they finish 5th, 6th, 7th then they’ll see. It’s a bit sad, that’s annoying. Those last few kilometres were frustrating kilometres.”

“It was very complicated,” Brand agreed. “That was a really big group, on the cobbles it was so hard to make a difference because there was so [much] headwind, so in the wheel it was much easier, and [we had with us] so many sprinters so we had to try to get away.”

Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) lived up to her pre-race favourite status by driving the chase clear and then again on the Carrefour de l’Arbre, but despite pulling within 10 seconds the group could never catch the break. (Photo © Kramon)

It was the addition of some of the best fast women in that chase group, as opposed to the front faction being filled with more chancers than team leaders, aided the collaborative efforts of the leaders.

“There were a lot of fast people in there,” Teutenberg continued. “You have us in there, Kopecky, UAE have Bastianelli, I don’t even know who else was in there. It’s hard for the others who don’t have a sprinter to put their heads down because it’s like why are we closing that for them?”

The result was a perfect crescendo to the most thrilling women’s Paris-Roubaix so far. While the race didn’t go Trek’s way, and the 100% record comes to an end, Teutenberg is serene, happy to have seen a taut, suspenseful race that will sit alongside her team’s Roubaix victories in the history books.

“You never know because if that crash hadn’t happened then maybe another situation [occurs] it’s always in hindsight, you never know …” Teutenberg deliberated. “Kopecky had to chase too, did that help? Did that not help? I don’t know, it’s one of those races where it’s just part of it.

“They got super close and nearly had them, it was like last year. They were super close to getting Elisa and then she rode away again. It was actually nice that the break survived and the top three came out of the break, I really have to say that.”

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