Cobbled Clues: Key Sections of 2023 Paris Roubaix Femmes

Alice Maria Arzuffi

One of the most gruelling races in the cycling calendar, Paris Roubaix Femmes, also known as the “Hell of the North,” is already effectively a monument in the sport despite only having 2 editions in its books. The race, which was first held in 2021, is a one-day race that takes place in Northern France and covers a distance of 145.4 kilometres, with over 30 kilometres of cobbled sections. The first woman to cross the finish line at the legendary Roubaix Velodrome is crowned the winner.

Since its inception, the Paris Roubaix Femmes has become one of the most anticipated races on the women’s cycling calendar. The race is a test of endurance and skill, with riders having to navigate rough terrain, cobbled sections, and unpredictable weather conditions. In this article, we will explore the key sections of Paris Roubaix Femmes, the challenges and strategies that riders face, and the tactics used by notable winners.

Cobbled Sections: Challenges and Strategies

Paris Roubaix Femmes is unique because of the brutality of the cobbled sections that the riders have to navigate. These sections are challenging because they can cause the riders to lose their balance and control of their bikes, leading to crashes and injuries. In editions like 2021, mud makes the riding even tougher. To navigate these sections, riders need to have excellent bike handling skills, experience, and a good strategy.

One strategy that riders use is to ride at a consistent and steady pace, avoiding sudden changes in speed or direction. They also need to position themselves well in the peloton, choosing the right line and avoiding the dangerous edges of the road. Another strategy is to use wider tyres with lower pressures, which provide extra grip and cushioning on the cobbles but must be balanced against the increased chance of punctures.

The key sections are Carrefour de l’Arbre and Mons-en-Pévèle. With no Arenberg in the women’s race, these are the only 5-star difficulty sections of cobbles. Neither has seen a race-winning move in the previous 2 editions but they are certainly sections where the peloton thins out and splits up. Camphin-en-Pévèle is a 4-star section just before the Carrefour de l’Arbre, it’s one where you can see the move potentially coming from with a gap created that holds on the Carrefour de l’Arbre. The sections afterwards tend to be relatively easy and tough to create breaks on, so attacks need to come earlier unless a sprint in the velodrome is desired.

Mylene de Zoete's broken bike
Mylene de Zoete’s broken bike after Paris Roubaix Femmes 2022

Notable Winners: Their Tactics and Triumph

Paris Roubaix Femmes has seen some notable winners in its short history, namely Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Deignan. These riders have used different tactics and approaches to the race, with Deignan going long from before the first sector with Longo Borghini waiting until much later.

Lizzie Deignan in the inaugural edition attacked before the TV coverage started, attracting the ire of fans who wanted to see the race-winning move. Deignan attacked so early mainly to be able to negotiate the muddy cobbles by herself and not have to worry about other riders squirming about trying to find traction. The move worked, with no coherent chase able to navigate the mud and close the gap. At the velodrome, a close-up showed the bloody state of the former World Champion’s hands, such were the toll of the cobblestones.

Elisa Longo Borghini kept the race in the hands of the Trek Segafredo team by winning in 2022. Another solo victory, this time the decisive move was with 38km to go between Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre. A small group chased but to no avail and it was left for Lotte Kopecky to strike out a move that kept Longo Borghini honest all the way to Roubaix with the winning margin under 30 seconds.

2023 Paris Roubaix Femmes Route & Cobbled Sectors

17Hornaing to Wandignies (3.7 km) ****
16Warlaing to Brillon (2.4 km) ***
15Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières (2.4 km) ****
14Beuvry-la-Forêt to Orchies (1.4 km) ***
13Orchies (1.7 km) ***
12Auchy-lez-Orchies to Bersée (2.7 km) ****
11Mons-en-Pévèle (3 km) *****
10Merignies to Avelin (0.7 km) **
9Pont-Thibault to Ennevelin (1.4 km) ***
8Templeuve – L’Epinette (0.2 km) *
8Templeuve – Moulin-de-Vertain (0.5 km) **
7Cysoing to Bourghelles (1.3 km) ***
6Bourghelles to Wannehain (1.1 km) ***
5Camphin-en-Pévèle (1.8 km) ****
4Carrefour de l’Arbre (2.1 km) *****
3Gruson (1.1 km) **
2Willems to Hem (1.4 km) ***
1Roubaix-Espace Charles Crupelandt (0.3 km) *

Conclusion: The Future of Paris Roubaix Femmes

Paris Roubaix Femmes has quickly become a prestigious race in the women’s cycling calendar, attracting some of the world’s top riders. The race is a test of endurance, skill, and strategy, with riders having to navigate rough terrain, cobbled sections, and unpredictable weather conditions. As the race grows in popularity, we can expect to see more exciting and thrilling races, with riders pushing themselves to the limit to be crowned the winner at the Roubaix Velodrome.