Paris-Roubaix shows peloton’s new luxury problem for women

Ellen van Dijk is so happy that she forgets to brake. He almost overthrows his teammates Elisa Longo Borghini and Lucinda Brandi – the Italian can easily jump aside. The three women then grab hold of each other in the middle of Roubaix ‘Vélodrome André Pétrieux to hug them close to the group.

It was already foreseen that Trek-Segafredo would have the strongest team on paper, on Saturday, six riders of the American stable showed in the second women’s edition of Paris-Roubaix that the reality was not on paper. The team was at the forefront of the entire competition. The tires of Van Dijk and world champion Elisa Balsamo, who was later disqualified for being pulled by the team manager’s car, did not affect morale. At the end of the afternoon, Longo Borghini (first) and Brand (third) were next to the podium, and Van Dijk was seventh.

Peloton had set off from the sun-cold Denain that afternoon. There was a Saturday market in the parking lot next to the start. What was not allowed for a long time because of the corona was now possible again: there was a mix of passengers, team leaders, spectators, mechanics and the press around the group buses. Acquaintances said hello, the bikes were admired up close, the best-known riders shared their autographs.

It was only six months since the women were here, but this time the circumstances were quite different. No rain and dirt, but sun and dust. “Actually, it’s like we’re racing again for the first time in this race,” Van Dijk said before the start. He has bad memories of the first wet edition: he fell so hard on the cobblestones that he was severely shaken. He said returning to the unpaved roads in northern France was “very exciting” for him. “I’m excited about it now, but it took a long time.”

Just before that, it was announced that the race would start without one of the biggest contenders. As the bus of the Jumbo-Visma team turned to the parking lot, a message appeared on social media that the driver Marianne Vosi was not on the bus. Corona. He was sent home by the team management after two positive self-tests, although he had no complaints. “For the first three or four days, he will not be allowed to ride a bike. After that, we will have a full examination before he can start training again,” said Esra Tromp, director of sports, deeply disappointed.

For Vosi, his coronary infection was particularly acidic because he was specifically focused on the match. He missed last week’s Amstel Gold Race, which he won last year. “It’s spring, when there are beautiful races in the calendar for a week. In recent years, major competitions with a very nice history have been added. Then sometimes it’s quite a mystery to make a beautiful schedule, because it’s hard to be good everywhere, “said Vos earlier this week.

luxury problem

Choosing between competitions is a new luxury problem for women’s pelotons. “It’s getting harder to figure out which race you prefer,” says Ina Teutenberg, Sports Director at Trek-Segafredo. “We didn’t have Paris-Roubaix until two years ago and this weekend was a natural break between the spring races. Now we don’t have it anymore. I see it as a luxury. “It makes his role as a team leader more important,” says Teutenberg. “But because we have a big team, there is more choice. It makes my job easier.”

Van Dijk calls it “just really beautiful” that women have a choice. “It is part of the development of cycling that from March to October you will no longer see the same riders among the top 10.”

Not everyone is equally happy with the full program. This poses a new problem for the peloton, says Danny Stam, sports director at SD Worx. “The number of races is growing, but the growth of good riders will not continue.” He points to three teams that decide to start with five instead of the six allowed. “And then this year is one of the biggest competitions. The teams have too few riders to show up at the same level everywhere.

Stam argues for a standstill. In his opinion, each team should have at least 15 good riders and there are none at the moment. “If we stabilize, the talents can see that cycling can earn a living, especially now that in many competitions the salary is equal to that of men. They need to decide to become professional because we need that growth.

One of his riders, Chantal Blaak, says he really likes all these races in a row. He has been competing every weekend since February 26, only after the Strade Bianche in early March. “I started a little slower than in other years because we really have a full program. But I find it easier to be good for a while. You can train well before and after. ”

Ellen van Dijk has also competed every weekend since this season for a variety of reasons. “It would be mentally difficult for me to focus on one competition, then it should work in that competition as well.” They took exactly this gambling in Jumbo-Visma and it turned out to be wrong. “We had worked hard for Paris-Roubaix, but our plan didn’t work,” says sports director Decroix. He still says he is behind his decision not to send Vosi to the Amstel Gold Race.

The Paris-Roubaix women’s start was in Denain.

Photo by Jeff Pachoud / AFP

Manage your lines

Without Vosi and also last year’s winner, pregnant Elizabeth Deignan, the race to Roubaix will start early. Positioning is perhaps more important than driving over cobblestones, and in the first of the seventeen cobblestone sections, things go quickly. Van Dijk is already five kilometers before the first stretch in front of the pack so he can ride his lines on the cobblestones.

A three-member steering group will be formed when Lotte Kopecky from Belgium wins the Flemish tour. They will be away for a while, but will be taken back about thirty kilometers before the finish. This is the time when Longo Borghin has to go jump. “I wanted to make sure Lucinda was in a good position behind me,” she recalls. Now the breadth of the team pays off: Brand can save himself, the rest can try to get back from Italy.

It does not work. Longo Borghini steps into Roubaix’s solo bike stadium to the delight of the people. As he begins his second and final lap on the track, the pursuers will drive in. Behind the Italian sprint, Kopecky, second in front of Brandi.

After the finish, the riders are suffocated. In the middle, they fall on the grass. The caretaker of the Jumbo Visma team wipes the dust off the faces of its passengers with a washcloth. Blaak, who is eighth, talks to the press, a line of sand on his chin. “Last year I was disappointed, but this year less,” he says. “Everything went according to plan, but Longo Borghin managed to escape. He and his team were just too strong.

The Italian winner also missed the Amstel Gold Race last week. “Of course there must be a little luck, but it’s no coincidence that we win here for the second year in a row,” says Van Dijk, dusty brown. “We have so many choices, we are by far the strongest.”

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